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Electricians beat back BESNA

Firms drop proposed 35% pay cut after direct action campaign from ‘Sparks’

Electricians are celebrating a major breakthrough in their battle to stop a co-ordinated attempt by some of Britain’s biggest construction firms to deskill their jobs and impose pay cuts of up to 35% after main players Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey threw in the towel. A source told a trade magazine that “one thing is definite, BESNA is finished.” The news was later confirmed in Construction News.

The employers had wanted to kill off JIB, an industry-wide agreement on pay and conditions, so it could be replaced with the vastly inferior BESNA plan. This would have let contractors raise and lower hourly pay rather than maintaining a standard wage for skilled work. For some electricians this would have meant a fall in hourly rates from £16.25 to £10 – a 35% cut.

The victory comes after months of campaigning from ‘Sparks’ within the industry which saw grassroots organisers bring out hundreds of electricians on weekly protests for months and culminated in wildcat strikes last year after the Unite union backed down on an official strike due to threatened legal action from the employers.

In September a group of around 1,500 electricians at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire walked out to join demonstrating electricians and November saw one of the largest nationwide wildcat strikes of 2011.

Unite union negotiators announced the withdrawal and suggested that “high-level talks” are now going to take place on the future of industry’s pay formulas. While Unite officials have talked ominously of sharing Balfour’s desire ‘modernisation’, normally another word for cuts, one Spark said that “the winning of this war is a long way off yet but we are constantly winning battles.”

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