Second major contractor dumps controversial pay and conditions proposals

A conversial wage agreement at the centre of a storm of protests by electricians looks doomed after the second major firm supporting the agreement pulled out.

NG Bailey has become the second major contractor to quit the controversial Building and Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA), after Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES) quit BESNA last Friday after losing a court bid to block a strike by the firm’s Unite workers.

The move by BBES threw the heavyweight M&E sector into chaos and prompted frantic meetings between the BESNA’s remaining supporters to determine its future.

NG Bailey said in a statement that Balfour’s withdrawal made BESNA “untenable” and had prompted its decision to also quit.

The statement said: “The BESNA agreement relied on the UK’s leading engineering companies adopting one single agreement that would introduce a modern working environment.

“Following the announcement from Balfour Beatty Engineering Services last Friday, the future of the BESNA is now untenable. NG Bailey can therefore confirm it will withdraw the BESNA contracts and will continue to work to the current working rule agreements. 

“The company welcomes Unite’s statement that it is committed to wide ranging talks on modernising the industry.”

It is understood the five remaining BESNA contractors –Crown House, Shepherd Engineering Services, Gratte Brothers, Spie Matthew Hall and T Clarke – are now likely to follow suit, stopping BESNA in its tracks.

The Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association (HVCA) – which drew up the BESNA proposals with the contractors – refused to comment on the developments this week.

But the HVCA’s rival trade body, the Electrical Contractors’ Association, which jointly runs the 40-year-old Joint Industry Board wage agreement with the Unite union, said it was “delighted”.

The ECA and Unite called for the firms to enter into dialogue aimed at creating new proposals.

There have been five consecutive months of protests against BESNA, including a 1,000-strong London rally, a sit-in of a contractor’s headquarters and violent clashes with police.

Over 6,000 workers were asked to sign up to the BESNA pay and conditions proposals by the first week of April or face redundancy. Almost 90% of the workers had done so as of 13 February.