Contractor will seek injunction to halt strike action

Balfour Beatty will mount a legal challenge to Unite’s planned strike action, after union members backed strike action yesterday.

Unite members at the contractor’s mechanical and electrical division – Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES) – voted 81% in favour of strike action with 360 voting ‘yes’ and 81 ‘no’.

The union plans to systematically ballot seven major electrical contractors – including BBES – 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.

But in a statement BBES angrily criticised the ballot’s legitimacy, claiming that - because of low turnout - 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.

BBES also claimed around 85 Unite members had not received ballot papers and that it expected the number to rise as more workers came forward.

Bernard McAuley, Unite’s national officer for construction, said the union had a clear mandate for strike action and was examining BBES’ statement and would respond in due course.

McAuley added: “[BBES] can play around with figures but 81% of their workers don’t want BESNA [Building Engineering Services National Agreement] – that’s a clear and definitive mandate.”

BBES will seek a court injunction to block the strike action “in the next few days”, it said.

The contractor said in a statement: “BBES wrote to Unite two weeks ago to draw these inaccuracies in the ballot to their attention and have received no response to date.

“BBES is working alongside the HVCA and six other contractors to modernise our industry and become more competitive in order to secure jobs and create opportunities.

“We urge Unite to re-consider its call for strike action at a time when UK businesses are trying to secure work and employment.

“We will continue to engage with our employees to complete the consultation process for the proposed Building Engineering Services National Agreement to ensure they understand the facts and the truth before deciding to participate in any planned strike action.”

McAuley said: “We’ve asked BBES to engage in talks immediately. The workforce does not want this agreement. [BESNA] is an employees’ charter and is going nowhere.”