Win! Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey drop deskilling plans

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Unite has welcomed the announcement by contractors Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey that they remain committed to the Joint Industry Board (JIB) agreement and the training of fully qualified electricians.

Unite’s concerns about deskilling were raised earlier this year, after it emerged that the two companies were part of an alliance at Hinkley Point C (HPC), who were seeking to introduce training standards for a new position of electrical support operative at the development.

The new training standards, which amounted to the deskilling of electricians, had not been discussed with Unite and the union immediately objected to the proposals, which were therefore never implemented. The plans to introduce deskilling training standards led to widespread protests by Unite electricians across the UK.

Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey have now, following discussions with the union, issued a statement which includes the confirmation that: “The disputed Electrical training standards developed by the ECITB (Engineering Construction Training Board) for HPC to create the electrical support operative have been permanently withdrawn by EDF after Unite raised concerns.”

They have gone on to state that these standards; “do not form part of our current or future development plans”, which Unite further welcomes.

A statement from rank and file Unite electricians, the Electrical and Mechanical Combine, said: “Since January this year, when the EMC discovered that training standards had been developed by the ECITB for containment and cabling, our activists staged a fightback. The resultant actions ensured that the training standards were withdrawn from Hinckley Point, within weeks.

“The ESO has been removed and the Electrical Labourer, with no installation duties, is now in its place. This, in itself, is a fantastic achievement that all involved should be proud of.

“Assurances were sought from the contractors that these standards and semi-skilled roles were not the start of a wider de-skilling agenda. Our rank and file members held demonstrations, leafletted, took part in the occupations and banner drops every week for the past three months. We salute those who have supported the campaign and those who have helped push back on a deskilling agenda which we believe would have had catastrophic consequences for our members.”

The EMC welcomed the moves by Balfour Beatty, NG Bailey and at Hinckley Point but promised to keep fighting the deskilling agenda, saying: “We will soon be entering into negotiations where our position is to have a standalone section within the HPC agreement where the JIB/SJIB standards take preference that includes grading, training and apprenticeships.

“This has to be our goal. Together we can win this particular battle, but there is much more to gain. Deskilling is rife, with the use of false improvers and mates on the increase. Issues around the use of agency labour, direct employment, blacklisting and bogus self-employment need to be tackled, as well as the wages that are well below our value.

“We would like to thank Sharon Graham and the organising department for their support during this dispute.”

Unite executive officer Sharon Graham said: “Our rank and file electricians have once again stood up and fought back against the deskilling of their trade.

“I was proud to be asked by the EMC chair and members to support the direct action required to push back against this latest attempt on the skill set of the electrician. We have, and will always stand by our members to protect their livelihoods.”

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “This statement is welcomed and provides clear clarification that the companies are committed to the JIB and the future training of fully qualified electricians. Unite’s position was clear from the outset that it would oppose any efforts to weaken the skillset and training of electricians.

“Now that this matter has been put to bed it is imperative that everyone involved in the construction industry commits to work together . This must include how we improve and increase the training of workers to ensure that the sector is an attractive and financially rewarding option for workers. Unite has during this period simply sought to protect our highly qualified members against any dilution of their skills.”

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