Sparks pay talks suspended as employers refuse to talk to rank+file reps

Unite and activists at the centre of the 7-month dispute had insisted rank and file reps would be part of negotiating team to meet employers in detailed talks on future of UK construction industry
by - 25th April 2012, 7.00 BST

UnionNews has learned that the first in-depth talks since the end of the so-called BESNA dispute last February have been suspended after the employers refused to negotiate with elected rank and file sparks representatives.

It is understood employers objected to the participation of a long-standing union activist who is known to have been blacklisted.

(Pictured: Unite targeted BESNA clients such as supermarkets in the campaign against pay cuts)

It comes as Unite officials have been attempting to negotiate an improvement on what is described as a ‘paltry’ 1.5% pay increase offered to construction electricians and other trades by one of the industry organisations.

Negotiators have so far rejected the offer, saying it would amount to a 15-month pay freeze for members.

Following the success of the seven month campaign against proposed cuts to pay, skills and safety levels by seven major construction industry employers, activists and Unite’s leadership insisted that rank-and-file reps should be part of the formal negotiating team in wide-ranging talks aimed at setting long-term agreements across the construction sector.

A frequent demand during the course of the dispute was that issues such as blacklisting, ‘bogus self-employment’ and the increasing use of agency workers and sub-contracting should be at the forefront of negotiations about the future of the construction industry.

In the face of a fall in production of 3% across the sector this year – confirmed in Wednesday’s official GDP figures – employers have continued to press for changes to working practices as well as cost-cutting.

The sector continues to account for some 7% of the UK’s overall economy, but has contracted by more than £20bn since the recession hit in 2008, according to industry figures.

Sources say talks on pay and other changes had reached a ‘crucial stage’ when the employers raised objections to the composition of the Unite delegation.

A further meeting is scheduled for early next week between Unite officials and executives from the construction companies.

Unite is insisting it will not accept any attempt by the employers to decide who makes up the delegation.

“These are elected branch officers and reps,” one official told UnionNews.

“They [the employers] have never objected before and we will not allow them to break up our team now.”