Unite, the UK’s construction union, has written to Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC) accusing it of undermining national construction agreements at the Hooton Park waste-to-energy plant that it is building in Ellesmere Port.
Unite accuses BWSC of “engaging in practices resulting in a race to the bottom for construction workers conditions”.
The Hooton Park project is being built by Danish company BWSC at the Peel Environmental site. At its peak the site will employ around 350 construction workers on the project. Once operational the client Cogen will process 240,000 tonnes of waste into energy every year. It will the first non-subsidised merchant gasification facility in the UK and it is the first time the UK market will see a gasification plant of this size, based on Japanese fluidised bed technology provided by Kobelco Eco Solution.
BWSC has indicated that it will pay wage rates in line with the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) but, according to Unite, it has refused to actually sign up to the agreement. Unite claims that BWSC is effectively denying workers overtime rates and other benefits as well as employment protection. Unite is also frustrated that it is denied access to the site.
Unite has secured the support of the local MP Justin Madders who raised concerns about the undermining of the NAECI agreement and “the construction industry leading this race to the bottom” in Parliament last week (Thursday 28th February).
The actions of BWSC would be illegal in its home country due to the way Denmark has interpreted the European Union’s Posted Workers Directive. Under the Danish interpretation all companies are obliged to follow the relevant industrial agreement.
Unite regional officer Steve Benson said: “It is the height of hypocrisy that BWSC is prepared to undermine construction industrial agreements in the UK, when it is required by law to apply them when operating at home. If Cogen and BWSC do not swiftly right this wrong then further action will be taken to ensure that they do so.”
This is not the first time that Danish contractors have been accused of lowering employment conditions on UK waste-to-energy plants. The unions waged similar campaigns against BWSC in Sandwich two years ago and against Babcock & Wilcox Vølund at the Templeborough biomass plant in Rotherham, where foreign migrant workers were reportedly paid less than half the UK industry agreed rates. [See our previous report here.]