Angry steel erectors threaten unofficial action to increase pressure on pay negotiators.
The Millennium Dome may be hit by an unofficial strike by steel workers angered by a pay deal negotiated by their unions.

Steel erectors with Watson Steel are threatening to end overtime and are considering strike action in a attempt to increase the pressure on employers. They claim that the £7.40 hourly rate in the National Agreement for Engineering Construction Industry is inadequate and are asking for a basic rate of £10.

They aired their grievances on Monday during a meeting at Holborn's Conway Hall held by the London branch of the Amalgamated Engineering & Electrical Union, which has about 50 dome members. The steel erectors told the union that they could have negotiated a higher national rate as they are now in a much stronger bargaining position. Steel erectors are demanding a ballot on the agreement, which they say they were not consulted on.

The specialist workers are crucial to the completion of the project, with steel erectors working on the highly complex zone display areas.

A spokesman for the AEEU said he is aware of discontent with the deal but said there is no legal mechanism through which the agreement can be overturned.

"The work is progressing well and the men are earning well," he said, adding that they can make £10.50 an hour with bonuses.

However, sources close to the steel erectors said they will take unofficial action of the type seen on the Jubilee Line Extension to overturn the deal. "The Jubilee Line has shown that actions speak louder than words," the source said. "The time is right now. There is still plenty of work around and we should be pushing for better agreements." Watson Steel was unavailable for comment. A spokesman for New Millennium Experience Company said he was unaware of any impending action.

The Jubilee Line has shown that actions speak louder than words. The time is right now

source close to steel erectors

Opera house menaced

A steel strike could also affect another giant lottery project, the £220m refurbishment of the Royal Opera House. Here, electricians are already threatening to walk out over a dispute with electrical contractor Balfour Kilpatrick.

Sparks claim Balfour Kilpatrick is victimising a former shop steward who lives in the South-east by transferring him to a project in Wales.

More than 100 electricians on the project have signed a petition calling on Balfour Kilpatrick to transfer him to one of its two main London sites.

Resentment is already running high among electricians at the opera house after Balfour Kilpatrick failed to pay average holiday pay over Christmas.

A spokesperson for Balfour Kilpatrick said: "We are willing to talk to the AEEU about the issue but these electricians have rendered themselves liable to dismissal by refusing to transfer." Electricians will hold a meeting early next week to discuss holiday pay and the alleged victimisation. But some are calling for an unofficial walk-out unless the former steward is moved.