Unite to send official notice of strike ballot in electricians’ dispute

Balfour Beatty will face another strike ballot next week, amid the on-going bitter dispute between electricians and their employers.

Unite members at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services voted 81% in favour of strike action last November, but the union was forced to back down from strike action after the contractor highlighted alleged deficiencies in the vote.

Unite’s national officer for construction Bernard McAuley said he was “confident” BBES workers would back strike action in the new vote, which will open on 19 January and close on 1 February.

BBES is one of seven electrical contractors proposing to ditch a 40-year-old wage agreement between employers and workers in favour of new pay and conditions proposals, known as the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA).

The move sparked four consecutive months of protests last year, including a sit-in of a contractor’s headquarters and violent clashes with police.

Around 6,000 workers are currently being asked to sign up to the BESNA proposals before the first week of April, when the proposals come into force.

Balfour Beatty said in a statement today that so far 850 out of 1,250 workers being asked to sign up to BESNA had done so.

The other contractors involved are NG Bailey, T Clarke, Crown House, Gratte Brothers, Shepherd Engineering Services and SPIE Matthew Hall.

A spokesperson for BBES said: “BBES is disappointed Unite has announced another strike ballot at this time.

“We have had 850 employees sign and return their contracts to date, a figure which is increasing daily. With 83.5% of our Building Services business now signed up it is clear that our employees understand the importance of the BESNA to our business, securing jobs and modernising our industry.

“We are looking at the detail of the ballot notification we have just received but early indications are this is again flawed.

“BBES would urge Unite to reconsider its position with regard to the strike ballot announced today and re engage in useful dialogue regarding the implementation of the BESNA through ACAS. We would also encourage Unite to listen to the clear message being sent by the majority of BBES employees who have already signed and returned their BESNA contracts.”

Unite’s Bernard McAuley said: “Skilled craftsmen are angry that BBES are leading the attack on their jobs.

“Over the past six months we have seen huge unrest in construction sites all over the country because of this move.

“Unless BBES and their cohorts re-consider the way they are forcing through change there will be harmful strikes across the country.

“Good industrial relations involves negotiating change in a constructive way, instead BBES are imposing an employer’s charter on an unwilling workforce.”

Blane Judd, chief executive of the HVCA, who is representing the seven contractors, said: “The seven contractors and HVCA are disappointed that Unite has announced another strike ballot concerning the introduction of the new Building Engineering Services National Agreement.

“We maintain that Unite’s decision is not in the best interests of its members, the workforce or the construction industry as a whole.

“We are convinced that BESNA represents the best way to secure jobs, develop skills and compete effectively against foreign firms.

“We hope that Unite will agree to our offer to resume discussions through Acas in order to resolve this entire matter.”