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Industrial unrest rocks Amey highways contract

19 Oct 20 Amey seems to be running into an industrial relations dispute on the highways

Gritting and winter maintenance could be affected it the dispute escalates
Gritting and winter maintenance could be affected it the dispute escalates

The Unite union, whose membership includes construction workers, is accusing Amey of ‘union busting’ tactics as it seeks to change working agreements on a Highways England road maintenance contract in the northwest of England.

Amey says that the only changes it is looking to make are to improve employees' terms and conditions.

Amey began work on the Highways England Area 10 maintenance and response contract in April 2019 under a 15-year deal worth £325m.

Unite has a recognition agreement under the Construction Industry Joint Council (CIJC) national agreement on the contract. According to the union, a new management team was installed in early 2020 with a mission to reduce the pay and conditions of the workforce.

Unit says that Amey wants to end union recognition on the contract, reduce the number of elected workplace representatives and has already begun to change the terms and conditions of workers, removing bonus payments.

It is also seeking to rule that (contrary to the existing industrial agreement) all holidays are booked a year in advance. In addition, says Unite, Amey managers plant to bring new starters onto the contract outside of the protection of the recognition agreement.

Unite says that the moves are driven by a need to make a profit on the contract.

But although Amey UK plc has been struggling financially in recent years – it lost £217m in 2019 and £388m in 2018 – its highways business remains profitable. Amey Highways Ltd grew its operating profits sixfold in 2019 to £3.7m on revenue of £117m. In the group accounts, group chief executive Amanda Fisher gave no hint of any problems making money on the Area 10 contract. She wrote: “Our client, Highways England, was pleased with the smooth transition and the speed with which the service was up and running.”

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The union is now writing to all the MPs and councillors in area 10 (Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and South Lancashire) asking them to support the workers and condemn the actions of Amey.

Unite regional co-ordinating officer Andy Fisher said: “Amey’s management in the northwest, we fear, is set on ‘union busting’, in order to cut workers’ pay and conditions to ramp up profits.

“Industrial action would be the last resort and would not be entered into lightly as it will cause incredible disruption across the northwest. However, Amey needs to understand that Unite will not allow its members to be treated in this manner.”

National officer for construction Ian Woodland said: “Amey needs to stop attacking its workers’ terms and conditions, stop attacking Unite and enter into detailed negotiations about a sensible and fair way forward on this contract.”

An Amey spokesperson said: "Unite are an important stakeholder to the Amey business and we remain absolutely committed to working collaboratively with them to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees.

"We agree with Unite that industrial action should be a last resort, not least in order to avoid significant disruption to road users. However we disagree categorically with the suggestion that we are either seeking to change our existing employees' terms and conditions or to end union recognition.

“We are proud that during 2020 we have worked with our stakeholder unions and successfully implemented a number of benefits for our key workers, including implementing the Real Living Wage, provided an extra four days holiday, enhancing our life assurance, providing trade unions referrals to our employee assistance programme, increasing sick pay benefits, increasing pay to our apprentices by up to 35%, as well as providing a general pay award.

“We would look to reach quick resolution that is acceptable to all and would welcome the opportunity for positive dialogue with Unite or ACAS mediation to achieve this.”

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