Contractors insist new agreement will not make workers ‘worse off’ and urge Unite to call off ballot

Two of the eight major electrical contractors at the centre of a bitter row over proposed changes to workers’ pay and conditions have spoken out in defence of the move for the first time.

Balfour Beatty and Gratte Brothers this week called on union Unite to step back from a strike ballot of its electrical workers over the changes.

The news came as hundreds of electricians travelled to London on Wednesday to demonstrate outside the Shard and Blackfriars Station, in a twelfth week of protests over a proposed wage agreement drawn up by the eight contractors, which also include NG Bailey.

John Moore, chief executive of Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, denounced what he called Unite’s “total fiction” that its workers faced a 35% wage cut under the proposals.

Moore said: “I can guarantee all the workers will move on to the equivalent grade. We have made sure that no workers are any worse off.”

Unite, which is co-ordinating the protests, announced that about 1,000 Balfour Beatty workers will be balloted for strike action over the issue next Wednesday. The union intends to ballot all 6,500 workers involved by the end of the month.

The action is being taken after eight contractors ditched the 40-year-old Joint Industry Board wage agreement between employers and workers in favour of drawing up a new agreement.

Ian Gratte, Gratte Brothers group managing director, said he was “fairly confident” his workers would reject strike action and sign up to the Building Engineering Services National Agreement agreement.

Gratte said he had spoken to all his workers and had not encountered any significant complaints. He argued the proposed changes - to create a single wage scheme for electricians and mechanical workers - were being demanded by clients.

Bernard McAuley, national officer for construction at Unite, said: “What is the point of a new agreement if they are not going to drop people’s wages?”