A walkout by striking electricians at a Carillion construction site in Manchester city centre has exposed the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement covering the industry as management-friendly and intrinsically hazardous to workers health.
The agreement, based on a sweetheart deal imported from New York, was signed in 1968 between the old EETPU executive and the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), ensures that union subscriptions are paid by employers. The 1979 Tory government used the JIB to strip workers in the industry of the right to an industrial tribunal. The deal is signed exclusively between the ECA and Amicus and remains highly secretive
Four skilled electricians at the site were dismissed after forming a branch of the TGWU/EPIU and insisting upon their right to direct employment. Other electricians at the site walked out in solidarity. Sources inside the site said that management had used the terms of the JIB to justify sacking the workers, arguing that their union could not be recognised and that they had forfeited their right to collective bargaining and protection. The striking workers were then replaced by unskilled labourers, some on as little as £5 an hour. According to shop steward Steve Acheson, “You can measure the quality of the job by its remuneration. We have been disposed of to make way for labourers with no experience or training. No wonder construction is the most dangerous industry in the country.”
The summary sackings by DAF Electrical, contractors for Carillion have seriously jeopardised safety at this construction site, a flagship for the city centre regeneration plan. Eyewitness reports and photographs taken on the site reveal haphazard wiring and critical safety cut off switches by-passed. Striking workers have also documented several material breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The workers claims have been backed by the regional Public Health Authority who are worried about the implications for public health and wellbeing. The site is in the middle of one of the busiest thoroughfares in Manchester. In a letter to the HSE, the Director of the North West Public Health Authority, Professor John Ashton has detailed evidence of serious safety breaches and has demanded an immediate investigation.
HSE was also criticised in press reports last week over their reluctance to enter the site. One local newspaper noted HSE’s claim that they would not be investigating because there is no legal requirement for safety critical electrical work to be done by qualified electricians. But workers are concerned that the inspectorate is taking a soft-touch approach because they are dealing with one of the city regeneration programme’s biggest players. As Steve Acheson points out, “Carillion are involved in a large number of contracts in and around Manchester and are big players as far as the HSE are concerned.”
Amongst Carrilion’s previous and ongoing projects are the Manchester Court refurbishment (£30m) Manchester Airport second runway (£172 shared with AMEC) and the Manchester International Conference Centre (£23m). Last September, the company announced that profits had doubled, and in December, announced that it was in the running for projects worth a total of £3.8 billion.
The workers are being backed by their union officials in the TGWU who are representing the strikers at an industrial tribunal on the 30th of June.
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