Thursday, 25 June 2015

Support Teesside Construction Committee


For the twelfth time so far, hundreds of Teesside construction workers will tomorrow morning protest against the failure by the consortium Sita/Sembcorp to pay the nationally negotiated rate for the job on a new £250 million waste to energy incinerator project.

In an industry where blacklisting is only too real then this is the latest brave move by the Teesside Construction Committee. (TCC) This is a joint body of Unite and GMB members who understand that if the consortium are allowed to escape justice this will set the tone for pay and conditions on future construction projects regionally. 

Workers started protesting after being blocked from working on what is the former ICI Wilton site and then discovering the pay rates and terms of conditions were below those negotiated annually between employer representatives and trade unions (Unite, UCATT, GMB) and known collectively as the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry. (NAECI)  

Under NAECI the pay rate on a new build site is £16.10 an hour. It is understood that overseas workers specially brought in by recruitment companies earn £2000 a month with deductions of £100 for travel and £600 for what is generally shoddy overcrowded accommodation. 

Sita/Sembcorp has stated 'all workers have pay rates equivalent to each of their relevant national agreements,' which according to advanced scaffolder Tony, "is a play on words. Many workers are from overseas countries where rates are below what have been negotiated here and which we intend keeping in place." Tony's application for a job at Wilton was ignored even though there are now around 400 workers on site. 

With major construction projects, costing around £3 billion, being planned across Teesside in the next few years, one of the protestors last week told me, "We are fighting for everybody's future. We can't allow the employers to bring in labour that undercuts our wages and conditions, including safety, which is very poor on this site and just this week there was an incident where a falling hammer narrowly missed hitting someone."  

TCC and the trade unions requests to Sita/Sembcorp to allow an independent audit of its books have meanwhile been refused. Overseas workers say the company can be interviewed if they provide the interpreters. The refusal to allow independent interpreters is clearly because they will confirm TCC's claims over pay and conditions. Employers also know the trade unions will speak to overseas workers and by inviting them to become members can move towards ensuring the  NAECI agreement is maintained.

Sita/Sembcorp has also claimed that there isn't the skills base locally to complete the site. Yet, as I know from my family background, Teesside has historically had a huge and skilled construction workforce that simply does not want to now be exploited. 

Unions are also looking to the long term. They have requested Sita/Sembcorp to set up an apprentice training fund.  This has been refused. 

The protests have achieved some success. One scaffolding firm,SGS, has increased the hourly rate it was paying from £10.97 by over a third. There are ongoing discussions over ensuring it pays the NAECI rate. "Standing together has helped ensure mine and other worker's pay has leaped and now we need to ensure that’s mirrored right across the site," said one of the scaffolder's. 

The sight of hundreds of protesting workers on all four gates last Friday at the site was a clear indication that there is no chance of the protestors going away. Protestors handed out leaflets and talked to staff. When the chance to speak with overseas workers appeared they took it, only to be told "boss says not to speak to you." 

The struggle therefore continues and the twelfth protest will take place from 6.30am to 9.00am tomorrow. A further eight protests, at least, are planned unless Sita/Sembcorp agree to abide by NAECI. Anyone wanting to support the protestors is welcome. 

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