Sparks block Blackfriars – ballot, Nov 9th day of action planned

by - 19th October 2011, 10.02 BST

Hundreds of Unite members and supporters have blockaded the gates to the Blackfriars station construction site in London, in the latest protest against plans by seven employers to impose new contracts which would downgrade safety and skill levels and downgrade pay for electricians by more than 30%.

Protesters blocked three entrances to the site, on the edge of London’s banking and finance district. Activists say a number of people arriving for work agreed not to go in and turned back. Several demonstrators from the nearby OccupyTheStockExchange protest outside St Paul’s cathedral also joined the Blackfriars event.

It comes less than 24 hours after Unite announced it is to ballot members at four Balfour Beatty construction sites across the UK, two months after the start of the rank and file protests against the threatened new contracts. The union says strike action could hit some of the UK’s key infrastructure projects, including power stations and Crossrail.  The rank and file membership has called for a national day of action on the 9th of November to accompany the ballot.  UnionNews understands a number of major construction sites are being considered as the focus of events on the day.

Unite officer, Vince Passfield, who attended the Blackfriars protest, told UnionNews: “you can see the mood has clearly changed after last night’s announcement.  The news was really well received on the site this morning and we’ll be stepping up pressure on the renegade employers to allow union officials onto these sites to speak to workers inside”.

Unite says it is balloting Balfour Beatty first as it believes the firm is acting as the `ring-leader’ of the break-away employers with five firms out of the seven threatening to sack workers who refuse to sign the inferior contracts by December 7. 1000 electricians at the four sites, which have yet to be named, will be included in the ballot, which follows Balfour Beatty’s decision to issue redundancy notices to almost 1,700 electricians working for the construction giant.

The union is calling for the immediate withdrawal of the redundancy notices and the proposed new contracts and is calling on Balfour Beatty and the other breakaway employers to take part in serious negotiations to resolve the dispute.

While Unite membership had been in decline across the industry since employers withdrew from the check-off system for paying union subs two years ago, activists say large numbers of electricians have joined since the high-profile demonstrations began at major construction sites across the UK.

Six other employers are threatening to withdraw from the JIB agreement covering skill and safety levels and electricians’ pay and are demanding that employees sign new contracts by 7th of December or face the sack. The firms are: N G Bailey Building Services, Crown House Technologies, Gratte Brothers,  Spie Matthew Hall, Shepherd Engineering Services (SES) and T.Clarke PLC

Watch our video report on the sparks demonstrations here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGWNFXfinF8

In a statement, Unite says attempts to break the out of the long-standing JIB contracts are hugely opportunistic given that Balfour Beatty’s orders are up 6%, with £15.5bn worth of projects on its books since last year, when Balfour Beatty posted pre-tax profits of £50.5 million.  Ian Tyler, its Chief Exec received a total pay package in 2010 of £979,994.