Labour MP John McDonnell addresses sparks’ protest at Kings Cross

Labour MP John McDonnell has branded the eight electrical contractors threatening to breakaway from a 40-year-old wage agreement between employers and workers as “predators”.

McDonnell, who was addressing demonstrators outside Kings Cross station in north London – was echoing Ed Milliband’s party conference speech yesterday in which he condemned the “predator” firms damaging Britain.

The under-construction Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow was also targeted in a sixth week of protests by electricians.

Eight of the industry’s largest electrical contractors – including Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey – are planning to ditch the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement in favour of drawing up a new wage agreement.

About 6,000 workers were put on notice earlier this month by the breakaway firms – which include Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey – and given until 7 December to sign up to the proposed new Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) or face redundancy.

Union Unite says it is preparing to ballot workers for strike action in the coming weeks. It also claimed yesterday that one of the firms – MJN Colston – has reversed its decision to leave the JIB in the face of the protests.

Blane Judd, chief executive of the HVCA, which has drawn up the new BESNA agreement in conjunction with the breakaway firms, said: “The door is still open to the union. Please give us a list of your concerns.

But Judd added he was frustrated at the union’s unwillingness to negotiate. “How do you negotiate when the other side simply says “I don’t like it”? These protests don’t seem to be driven by the 6,000 people involved, they seem to be driven by seasoned protestors.”