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Tue April 13 2021

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Deskilling controversy over electricians' training

1 Mar Plans for electrical training work on the £23bn Hinkley Point C project have been suspended as controversy over deskilling raises its head once again.

Hinkley Point C
Hinkley Point C

According to the Unite union, two training standards that have been developed by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) for Hinkley Point C undermine the role of the electrician.

Unite raised its concerns with EDF, the developer of the nuclear power station in Somerset, which agreed to put the training programme hold until the problem is resolved.

The disputed standards relate to cabling and containment work – the ‘bread and butter’ work for electricians on new build construction projects, Unite says.

Unite was alerted to issues with the training standards still at an early stage. There are no electricians working on cabling and containment work yet at Hinkley Point C as this phase of the project has yet to begin. Therefore no worker or apprentice there has had their training disrupted.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said “The undermining of the role of electrician has been attempted for more than 30 years, most recently in 2011/12 when eight of the major mechanical and electrical (M&E) construction companies promoted the use of non-electrical personnel to carry out skilled electrical tasks under the so called BESNA agreement.”

BESNA was the Building Engineering Services National Agreement, drawn up by the Heating & Ventilation Contractors Association.

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Len McCluskey said: “Unite defeated the BESNA agreement then and we will defeat this latest attempt to deskill electricians. Our message to the industry is clear. Unite and its electrical membership will oppose any and all efforts to weaken the skill set of the trade which will undermine the industry by introducing non-skilled operatives.

“Any deskilling of electricians would result in a race to the bottom and would be highly damaging to industrial relations across the sector.”

A spokesperson for the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board said: “The ECITB was asked by EDF and the MEH Alliance to develop training pathways that create progressive career opportunities in line with the principles agreed within the HPC collective M&E agreement, the ECSA, for new entrants coming onto Hinkley Point C. This work commenced in January 2020 and has involved consultation with a wide range of industry stakeholders.

“Employer led, the ECITB’s remit is to support the delivery of skills and training in the engineering construction industry. This includes supporting new entrants into the industry, so that employers have the skills they need, individuals acquire relevant industry skills to advance their careers and we collectively build capacity for future industry projects.

“The ECITB does not comment on industrial relations matters, which are a matter for the employers and union representatives.”

The MEH alliance is a partnership between the client and all tier one mechanical, electrical and HVAC contractors and support services contractors working on Hinkley Point C.

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