Tower crane operator HTC Wolffkran has expressed its disappointment at Unite’s decision to ballot its union members on strike action following the suspension of pay talks.
However, Unite said that it only began balloting for strike action after the company broke off negotiations and the company’s director and general manager Dave Holder, rejected a private meeting.
Unite says that the management of HTC Wolffkran is unnecessarily increasing industrial tensions and has distorted the information concerning the ongoing pay dispute.
Peace talks had collapsed in May (link opens in new tab).
The company says acceptance of its most recent offer would mean its 260 crane operators would have received pay increases totalling 19.8% over the last five years.
Unite said that this fails to mention that these increase only returned workers to the level of pay they received prior to the recession in 2008, with the workforce experiencing pay cuts between 2008-2010. Jerry Swain, Unite national officer for construction, said: “It is disingenuous to claim workers have received substantial pay rises in recent years when in reality the company was simply returning money that they had cut from workers’ pay.”
Dave Holder, HTC Wolffkran’s director general manager, said: “Despite the economic uncertainties of recent years, we have enjoyed high utilisation and rental rates, which have allowed us to perform well. This performance has been reflected in the level of remuneration we have passed on to our tower crane operators, whose pay has increased by an average of £7,689.22 since 2013. At the same time, agreed pay awards have also led to a decrease in the average number of hours worked per week.” The package for tower crane operators equates to an average of £60,000 per annum, said the company.
Swain said: “HTC Wolffkran is correct to claim that some crane drivers earn £60,000, however they fail to mention how many hours a week a crane driver would have to work in order to make that kind of money. Also the company doesn’t address the physical and mental demands placed on a worker operating in a highly stressful and safety critical environment for such a long period."
The company’s offer to its tower crane operators for 2017, which it implemented on 1 June comprised a 3% increase in all hourly rates, a 33% increase in the apprenticeship rate, a day of additional paid annual leave (29 days from January 2018) and an option to take the three-day Christmas shutdown as unpaid leave. A pay award for 2018 was also tabled at the same time, which was for a 3% increase in all hourly rates and a day of additional paid annual leave (30 days from January 2019). HTC Wolffkran said that it also made a bonus payment to every employee in December 2016, which equated to about 2.15% of average pay.
Holder added: “Industry commentators have said that our pay award for 2017/18 is not just the best in the tower crane rental sector, but one of the best in UK industry this year. Therefore, to have it rejected, and be informed by Unite that its members want a 10 per cent increase is both disappointing and more than a little surprising.”
Swain said: “In order to make real progress HTC Wolffkran need to have a better understanding of how industrial negotiations operate. Our pay claim is based on what we believe the company could and should pay. However we fully understand that to reach an agreement all sides have to find common ground which can only be achieved through talks. By breaking off negotiations and then imposing a pay increase without agreement HTC Wolffkran has either by accident or design created this dispute.”
The prospect of strike action is hampering performance, said Holder. “We have lost two significant contracts from longstanding customers as a result of it, and I can only imagine what the impact would be should the threat of a strike become a reality and we find ourselves unable to fulfil contractual obligations.”
Unite said that it remains committed to seeking a negotiated settlement and is firmly of the belief that if HTC Wolffkran is prepared to sit down and enter into meaningful talks, strikes can be avoided.
Unite’s strike ballot closes on Friday 4 August.