Firm reluctant to concede wage rises for M&E staff for fear of setting benchmark for other workers.
BAA is locked in internal talks over whether to implement a national pay agreement for major projects at its £3.2bn Heathrow Terminal 5 site.

The airports operator is under intense pressure to accept a deal that would increase pay for M&E staff above the national rate. However, it is worried that this would open the floodgates to pay claims from M&E workers on other large projects being carried out under framework agreements at Heathrow and elsewhere.

BAA confirmed that it is carrying out a review of the Major Projects Mechanical and Electrical Agreement, a pay deal signed by electricians union Amicus and M&E contractor associations after negotiations lasting several years.

Building understands that BAA held internal meetings last Thursday to discuss the deal and that recommendations are about to be presented to the BAA main board.

The question of pay at T5 has become an emotive issue for M&E staff after contractor Laing O'Rourke agreed to pay skilled building workers on the project £55,000 a year. M&E work has traditionally attracted higher rates of pay than the building crafts.

The big issue is whether BAA accepts the major projects agreement at T5

Amicus official Frank Westerman

It is understood that some contractors have reservations about the implementation of the major projects agreement at T5. They are concerned that disparities in pay rates could lead to a glut of labour at T5 and shortages on other sites.

Frank Westerman, the Amicus regional officer who is dealing with the negotiations, said the major projects agreement had been formally agreed by unions and contractors and that the onus was on BAA to accept it.

He added that BAA had a number of options that it could take. One of these was to extend the agreement to all BAA airport construction activities, including work at Stansted Airport in Essex and Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.

He said: "The big issue is whether or not BAA accepts the major project agreement on the T5 site, and whether it is going to accept it on the wider Heathrow framework contracts as well. If it doesn't, you could have men working next to each other on different rates of pay."

Westerman said BAA might also decide to negotiate a one-off pay deal for T5 workers, and have different rates of pay at its other airport sites.