Concerns centre on both worker exploitation and the threat posed to nationally agreed pay rates and conditions.
At Ferrybridge power station in Yorkshire there are questions about the competency of a number of workers employed by the Polish sub-contractor Mosotstal Pulaway.
At the £150m Templeborough biomass energy plant being built in Rotherham by Danish contractor Babcock & Wilcox Vølund, foreign workers are reportedly being paid less than half the UK industry agreed rates.
On a similar £160m project in Sandwich another Danish contractor, Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor, is also being accused of what the trades unions call ‘social dumping’.
Unite, the UK’s largest union for construction workers, has now submitted a formal challenge to employers over its concerns about worker competency at Ferrybridge.
Mosotstal Pulaway has agreed to abide by the terms of the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI), which is the relevant industrial agreement for the mechanical engineering works being undertaken.
Unite’s challenge is to ensure the agreement is honoured in full, including on the necessary standards, to ensure workplace safety and that the workforces’ skills are fit for purpose, namely a trade specific NVQ at Level 3.
Unite has now submitted a formal complaint to the NAECI National Joint Council that Hitachi Zosen Inova, the principal contractor on the project, has breached the rules of the agreement.
Unite regional organiser Chris Weldon said: “Unite will not allow our industrial agreements to be undermined. It is vital that this issue is swiftly resolved not just for this site, but for future projects undertaken under the NAECI agreement. This dispute is about ensuring that workers employed on NAECI projects across the UK have the appropriate qualifications and are fully competent and safe to undertake the work.”
Meanwhile other union representatives, from both Unite and the GMB union, took their protestations to Denmark this week. The Rotherham and Sandwich waste-to-energy incinerators are being financed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, the investment arm of PensionDanmark. Pay rates being offered via subcontractors on the two projects are reportedly up to 61% below the collective agreements agreed rate.
Ironically, trade union collective agreements are legally binding in Denmark, but they are not in the UK.
Babcok & Wilcox Vølund is subcontracting work in Rotherham to Croatian company Duro Dakovic. According to the unions, the company has ignored the appropriate collective agreement and pays Croatian workers the minimum wage of £7.20 an hour. The NAECI rate is £16.97 an hour with a bonus of £2.37 an hour.
Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor refuses to allow trade unions on their site in Kent. According to the unions, it also refuses to follow the NAECI agreement, not paying the bonus, industry sick pay, enhanced holiday pay, travel and accommodation allowances, benefit entitlements for death and disablement and many other benefits.
UK construction unions protested outside the offices of PensionDanmark yesterday.
Unite national officer for construction Bernard McAulay said: “Danish companies involved in social dumping in the UK are rightly being named and shamed. It is the height of hypocrisy when companies turn a blind eye to allow the exploitation of workers in the UK to boost profits, when such practices are illegal in Denmark.
“The Danish government cannot stand idly by and allow companies to continue to conduct these practices when they know that if they promoted the same policies at home they would be prosecuted.
“Unite will use all its industrial power and influence to ensure that workers are not exploited and undercutting is ended in the construction industry.”
Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer for construction, said: “If the Danish investors and construction companies took part in this kind of scheme back home in Denmark they would be facing a prison sentence.
“This exploitation of workers and social dumping has got to stop - and if it takes civil disobedience on the gates of their construction projects in the UK, so be it. These companies are willing to push their profit margins at the expense of human misery.
“It’s now time for the Danish government to get off the fence and regulate their investors and constructors and force them to act according to their corporate and social responsibilities regarding collective agreements, wherever they operate. GMB will fight them all the way to achieve this goal.”