Unite accuses contractors of attempting to ‘deskill’ electricians under controversial wage agreement

The UK’s seven major electrical contractors at the centre of one of the construction sector’s largest industrial relations disputes for over a decade plan to employ fewer skilled workers under a controversial new wage agreement.

The admission - from sources behind the Building and Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) on pay and conditions - is likely to increase tensions with workers.

Building understands the contractors want to employ fewer NVQ3 level electricians and more workers at a new “installer” grade, paid at £11.89 an hour rather than £14.83.

Blane Judd, chief executive of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association (HVCA), which helped draw up the BESNA, confirmed the contractors planned to employ proportionally fewer skilled workers to “rebalance” their workforces.

Union Unite said the plans would “deskill” the electrical sector.

The HVCA said the move was commercially necessary and all of the employers “have given their guarantee that they will not downgrade their [current] workforce” to the “installer” grade.

The firms have argued that fewer skilled electricians are needed on site because of the rise in pre-fabricated construction methods and that out-dated wage agreements mean international competitors undercut prices.

About 6,000 workers have been asked to sign up to BESNA by the first week of April or face redundancy.

Unite has vowed to ballot the workers at BESNA firms - Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES), NG Bailey, T Clarke, Crown House, Gratte Brothers, Shepherd Engineering Services and SPIE Matthew Hall - for strike action before the changes come into force.

A spokesperson for the contractors said 70% of their workers had so far signed up to the wage agreement.