Unions say dispute ‘can now be settled’, but employers warn pay rises in downturn may lead to job cuts

A strike planned by workers on power station projects across the UK may have been averted by an eleventh-hour deal to increase pay for engineering workers.

The GMB union had balloted workers at seven sites across the UK, including Sellafield in Cumbria. However, a senior union figure said a meeting on Friday between GMB and Unite, and the Engineering and Construction Industry Association (ECIA), seems to have resolved the dispute.

The ECIA had been proposing a pay freeze in 2010, but has conceded an increase. Union sources say several other gripes were resolved in workers’ favour but they failed to force the ECIA to accept the creation of a list of unemployed UK workers.

A senior union figure said: “I think this can be settled now. It was about stopping foreign workers from being exploited, and creating a level playing field for local workers. Hopefully this has now been achieved, along with a pay increase for 2010.”

A source in the ECIA said he was concerned by the pay increase. He said: “There have already been massive costs from the downturn. This could force firms to make redundancies, and might even encourage workers in other sectors to threaten strikes.”

The sites that the GMB balloted were in Grangemouth in Stirlingshire, Sellafield in Cumbria, Stanlow in Merseyside, Chevron in Pembroke, Aberthay in south Glamorgan and Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire, where the militancy started.

Colin Trousdale, a worker who took part in the protests at Staythorpe, said: “This sector has a massive order book at the moment, there are three new nuclear stations to be built, three to be decommissioned; they need the work force to make it happen.”