Fears are growing that a pay row between the GMB union and a Scottish contractor could threaten a national wage agreement.
Nearly 40 employees at Edinburgh-based furniture maker Grant Westfield have rejected a 4% offer, claiming that they are entitled to 5.5%.

The dispute centres on the increases to which workers are entitled under a three-year deal called the Working Rule Agreement, signed by the Construction Confederation and the three main construction unions (UCATT, the GMB and the T&G) last year. This states that the minimum pay rate should increase 5.5%.

Grant Westfield claims that if it pays its staff more than the minimum rates laid down in the agreement, it is not obliged to adhere to the percentage increases stipulated. The unions counter that this is contrary to the spirit of the agreement.

The dispute is likely to be settled at an employment tribunal, but one union insider warned that a legal battle could lead to the breakdown of the whole deal.

He added that it was customary for contractors to pay the agreed increase to workers earning more than the minimum. If Grant Westfield succeeded in getting its way, it would create an unacceptable precedent.

Some officials think the increase in the basic rate is for wages that are above the minimum, but this is not the case

Jerry Lean, the Construction Confederation

Neil Moore, the GMB's national construction officer, said he was investigating the situation.

Grant Westfield managing director Nigel Patch said the firm could not afford to increase wages 5.5%, because it expected trading conditions to deteriorate in the near future. He added that he would welcome the use of an employment tribunal to settle the case, because that would enable all parties to air their views.

The Construction Confederation said the deal did not include any clause prescribing mandatory pay increases for those paid more than the minimum rate. Those firms who refused to pay the 5.5% increase were therefore within their rights.