Union Unite backs down in the face of legal threat

Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES) has successfully overturned its workers’ vote for strike action, after claiming the union-run strike ballot had “very significant deficiencies”.

Unite has agreed to re-run the ballot after BBES threatened the union with legal action.

The union is balloting seven of the industry’s largest electrical contractors over the next few weeks – including BBES and NG Bailey – that are all planning to ditch a 40-year-old wage agreement between employers and electrical workers in favour of new pay and conditions proposals.

Unite members at BBES voted 81% in favour of strike action with 360 voting ‘yes’ and 81 ‘no’, the union revealed on Tuesday.

But BBES condemned the ballot and claimed only 21% of the 1,650 workers affected by the proposals had actually backed strike action.

The contractor further alleged there were a number of “deficiencies” in the ballot, including the inclusion of non-BBES staff, non-receipt of ballot papers and the mis-categorisation of sites.

But the union condemned BBES’ legal challenge to the ballot and vowed to re-ballot its workers.

Bernard McAuley, Unite’s national officer for construction, said: “Rather than listen and return to the negotiating table, BBES have chosen to hide behind draconian ballot laws and challenge the democratic voice of BBES employees.

“If BBES continues on this path of imposition and Unite is forced to re-ballot, then we have no doubt our members will again vote overwhelmingly for strike action.

“This dispute will not be resolved until BBES recognises the legitimate concerns of our members.”

BBES said in a statement: “BBES is pleased that Unite has re-considered its position on strike action arising from the recent ballot, following a number of very significant deficiencies in the ballot identified by BBES and drawn to Unite’s attention prior to the announced result.

“We are keen to talk to Unite about moving forward with the BESNA, and for Unite to recognise the importance of implementing a new more modern agreement better designed to suit the needs of the industry and our customers.”