Monday, March 06, 2006

[UK] Multinational companies are moving workers around the EU to undercut wages

The issue is very simple: multinational companies are moving workers around the EU to undercut wages - in this case, as laid down in the Construction Industry "Blue Book". (Download PDF).

All-out unofficial strike at Cottam Power Station near Lincoln

50 construction workers, members of the GMB and Amicus, at Cottam Power Station near Lincoln are into the second week of an all-out unofficial strike. The issue is very simple: multinational companies are moving workers around the EU to undercut wages - in this case, as laid down in the Construction Industry "Blue Book". They're trying to do an Irish Ferries on construction workers in Britain.

Striker Frank Senior, GMB Senior Steward, said "We want to stick to the NAECI agreement and at the end of the day they don't."

A demonstration outside the power station at 7am on the 28/2/06 had Amicus stewards from Electricity Distribution in Mansfield, A Unison branch secretary from Ashfield, a couple of car loads of students from Nottingham, and supporters from as far off as Scunthorpe, turning up to join the picket line. They've gone back to raise money and other solid support.

GMB Union Official Bernard McAuley, joint chair of the Project Joint Committee (PJC) - the committee which is supposed to police the conditions in the Blue Book - said that the PJC meeting, also planned at Cottam for this morning, had been cancelled by management.

The details are, of course, complicated. At Cottam (owned by Electricite de France) German utility RWE has been sub-contracted to build a de-sulphurisation plant. RWE sub contracted Austrian company SFL to do the work.

SFL hired British workers under standard Blue Book construction site conditions and Hungarian and Austrian workers. Everybody was told not to talk to anyone else about wages and conditions. In particular the Hungarians and Austrians were told not to talk to the English as they were troublemakers who had "silly little tea breaks". Weekend overtime was only allocated to Hungarians and Austrians.

Divide and rule didn’t work this time. Workers did talk to each other and, if they couldn’t understand each other’s languages, they could understand each other’s pay slips. The Hungarians discovered they were on nothing like the Blue Book. The Hungarians started to join the GMB, but found that they were mysteriously transferred to other jobs back on the Continent.

Last Thursday (16/02/06), Hungarian welder Barnabas Bito (the one with the peaked cap, zipped up jacket and the beard in the pictures) paid for his own flight back to the UK to explain to the British workers that the Hungarians had not been transferred to other work, but sacked.

19 British GMB construction workers immediately walked out. They were joined by Amicus scaffolders and laggers. Magnificent.

Barnabas said that when Hungary joined the EU he thought that they were going to get the same possibilities as everyone else - not the opposite!

In one meeting, RWE Manager Mr Aulbradder attacked the Blue Book saying it was out of date, no good, and questioned why British workers were concerned about the Hungarians’ pay. He said they were on 5-7 Euros an hour (Euros are worth 68p) which is good pay for Hungarians back home, and on a par with Doctors' and Solicitors' salaries. "Every country is different - in Germany if you work hard you get more money and if you are lazy you get less."

This dispute is crucial to all Blue Book construction sites, and that includes Wembley and Heathrow Terminal 5.

John Shemeld
- e-mail: john_shemeld@yahoo.co.uk

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