By Polly Maclean
It looks as if the construction workers at Cottam power station, near Lincoln, may have won a victory in their brave fight to win union-agreed wages and conditions for the Hungarian workers imported to work alongside them.
On 21 March, the nineteen workers who had been sacked after striking unofficially (and therefore illegally) were reinstated, and the contractor employing the Hungarian workers, SFL, agreed to put the Hungarian workers on union-agreed terms.
There are issues still to be resolved. The site — where a desulphurisation plant for the power station is being built — also has Slovak and Polish workers, employed by another contractor. The web of contractors and sub-contractors allows the bosses large possibilities of evasion.
The issue is very simple: Multinational companies are moving workers round the EU to undercut wages — in this case, as agreed in the construction industry Blue Book. Striker Frank Senior, GMB Senior Steward, said “We want to stick to the NAECI (National Construction Industry) agreement and at the end of the day, they don’t.”
Although the issue is simple, the details of the dispute are 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 conditions and Hungarian and Austrian workers under worse conditions.
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.
Workers did talk to each other — and if they had trouble with each others’ languages, they could understand each others’ pay slips. The Hungarians discovered they were on nothing like the Blue Book. The Hungarians joined Amicus but found that they were mysteriously transferred back to the Continent.
On 16 February Hungarian welder Barnabas Bito paid for his flight back to the UK to explain to the British workers that the Hungarians had not been transferred to other jobs, but sacked.
19 British GMB construction workers immediately walked out. They were joined by Amicus scaffolders and laggers.