The attempt by the UK’s major construction contractors to impose a new collective agreement for mechanical and electrical construction workers has collapsed after the remaining six companies followed industry leader Balfour Beatty Engineering Services in performing an embarrassing u-turn.
The “Building Engineering Services National Agreement” (BESNA), the proposed replacement for the existing Joint Industry Board, is now decisively dead-in-the-water after employers’ organisation the Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association (HVCA) agreed to negotiations with Unite, the union representing the majority of organised mechanical and electrical construction workers.
Unite had planned a series of direct actions against NG Bailey Building Services, Crown House Technologies, Gratte Brothers, Spie Matthew Hall, Shepherd Engineering Services and Tommy Clarke, the six remaining BESNA firms, which it has now called off.
The rank-and-file committee which has led the campaign against BESNA, organising an impressive series of pickets, protests and wildcat strikes across the UK, often with little support and occasional hostility from union officialdom, will now have to turn its attention to the negotiations between Unite and the HVCA. Activists must pressure their union to make sure any talks are geared towards improving the JIB (a deal only brought in off the back of a previous wave of defeats and cuts) or replacing it with something better.
A new deal should guarantee health and safety standards, end blacklisting and move towards a reintroduction of direct (rather than agency) employment and hiring.
Unite must not help HVCA members draft a BESNA-lite or concede to any chipping away of JIB provision.