Militant electricians could jeopardise prestigious national projects with more action over pay.
Anxiety is mounting over whether the Royal Opera House, the Millennium Dome and three Jubilee Line Extension stations will meet their deadlines after another wildcat strike by electricians this week.

The biggest danger is at the opera house, where contractors are due to start handing over the building in the next two weeks.

Royal Opera House project director John Fairclough said: “We’ve got to be out of the building in weeks. There are five or six productions that have to be ready for December.”

He said it would be difficult to make up for the lost hours. “We can’t bring any more electricians on to the job. There are as many people as we can accommodate.”

He said he was no more worried than usual about missing the deadline, but warned: “London will be a laughing stock if we don’t.”

But electricians are at least two weeks away from agreeing a deal and have threatened more action. AEEU general secretary Sir Ken Jackson said he hoped to finalise a deal and ballot members within two weeks. He described the electricians’ action as completely unnecessary.

On Wednesday, more than 1000 electricians joined an unofficial demonstration protesting over a pay and conditions package worked out between AEEU officials and the Electrical Contractors Association. Most of the electricians on the demonstration were from the dome, opera house and JLE projects.

This is the second time electricians have stopped work on these projects in two weeks and with the opera house due to hand over to the client so soon, it could prove disastrous.

Chris Smith, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said he was aware of concerns about the strikes delaying the opening of the opera house. He told Building at the Labour Party conference: “I am in touch with the trustees of the opera house and they are keeping me informed of the situation.”

Smith said he had not been in contact with the AEEU but he hoped that the union would be able to resolve the situation soon.

Electricians opposed to the proposed deal say that the package that has been put to members is not equivalent to a 27% pay rise over two years, as claimed, and has serious defects, including a reduction in weekend overtime pay and the abolition of travelling allowances.

The striking electricians gathered outside County Hall in London and marched to the offices of the ECA in Bayswater, south London.

One opera house electrician said: “The deal must be overturned. We’ll strike every Wednesday between now and the millennium if necessary. This is a third-rate deal from a third-rate general secretary.”

Another said: “It’s a lie to say we are being offered a 27% pay rise. The cut in overtime rates alone means we are really being offered next to nothing.”