Property News: Fury at builders’ pay cut threat at Farringdon Station

Work continues at Farringdon railway station.

Published: 22 September 2011

HIGHLY skilled construction workers building the new Farringdon train station face Christmas on the dole if they refuse to sign new contracts, trade union representatives have warned.
The employment terms, which will be offered to hundreds of staff working on the project overnight and at weekends, will reduce pay by 30 per cent and could leave unskilled staff to take on extremely technical tasks during the  station’s refurbishment.
The station, when completed, will offer a more frequent service from Kentish Town to south London and beyond to Brighton, and will also mean that Camden and Islington residents will have a new link into the Crossrail service, due to be launched by 2017.
The construction staff, who are installing complex electrics, plumbing and other resolving other engineering issues in the multi-million-pound revamp of the station, have been told by eight construction companies who are being paid by Network Rail to mastermind the scheme that they must sign new contracts or will be dismissed on December 7.
Trade union Unite, who represent staff working on the revamp, are organising a day of protest at the historic station in Islington – and plan to do the same next week at King’s Cross station.
Unite say that the firms – who generate millions of pounds of profit each year – want to cut their costs by ripping up long-established terms and conditions  and offering staff semi-skilled pay rates.
A Unite spokesperson said: “They have simply decided to rip up an agreement that has worked for 30 years.
“This was a partnership between unions and employers to establish rights, terms and conditions.”
This included safety, pay levels, and whether a job counted as working away from home. All will be radically re-drawn under the new contracts, the union has warned.
The Unite spokesperson said it was feared employing under-qualified staff to do skilled work could lead to delays in finishing the project and even be dangerous for both workers and passengers. 
Five of the eight companies with contractors at the station have issued Unite with a legal notice saying they plan to dismiss and then re-employ thousands of their members on new, inferior contracts. 
The companies who have issued the notice are some of the UK’s best-known building firms, such as Balfour Beatty, Crown House Technologies, Spie Matthew Hall, Shepherd Engineering Services and NG Bailey.
Unite regional officer Guy Langston said: “Our members in London are furious about this attack by these so-called 
reputable companies aimed at reducing our members’ income by up to a third.
“The companies are trying to bulldoze their plans through by ripping long-standing national agreements without any negotiation.
“These rogue employers should pull back from the brink as their brutal onslaught on workers’ skills, pay, and terms and conditions is causing widespread anger among workers.”
The union’s claims have been dismissed by the Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association (HVCA), who are trying to implement  Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) on behalf of the contractors at Farringdon. 
HVCA chief executive Blane Judd told the New Journal: “There is absolutely nothing in the agreement about cutting workers’ pay or replacing skilled staff with semi-skilled workers. 
“In fact, the BESNA is designed to encourage a multi-skilled and integrated workforce capable of delivering the more sophisticated projects now expected of the mechanical and engineering sector in the modern era.”


It's a no win situation

I always worry about not only the project delivery and escalating costs that this type of penny pinching creates, it is usually always false economy to cut corners in this way.
Also, the station has had a lot of press with the extended reach of the line and the increased frequency of the services. The old adage, "if it 'aint broke don't fix it" seems to ring true here. An agreement that has worked for 30 years is now being ripped up and the workers clearly - if under threat of losing their job, are going to be more than a little cautious with new contracts.

Think about the bigger picture guys, if you want the professionals to continue then don't treat them like monkeys would be my advice.

Dave - Webmaster @ Builders in Surrey

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