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Unions urged to continue pay agreement talks

Employers have said progress is being made on the introduction of new pay and working conditions for M&E and plumbing operatives as union protests continue.

Seven of the building engineering services industry’s largest contractors remain in consultation with their combined workforce of around 6,000 operatives about the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA).

The agreement was developed by the HVCA to harmonise pay and terms and conditions of employment for mechanical, electrical and plumbing workers.

Discussions over the BESNA started with Unite in March, but the trade union subsequently disengaged from the negotiation process.

“HVCA continues to believe that the involvement of Unite is important to the long-term viability of the BESNA, and our door remains well and truly open to our union colleagues,” said HVCA chief executive Blane Judd.

NG Bailey, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, T Clarke, Crown House Technologies, Gratte Brothers, Shepherd Engineering Services and SPIE Matthew Hall are consulting with their workforce. MJN Colston has pulled back from the agreement in the face of union protests.

Pay rates of electrical operatives will be unchanged, but mechanical and plumbing rates will be standardised in line with their electrical counterparts. The employers claim that some workers will enjoy improved terms and conditions and state they will continue to be directly employed.

They have also said that no redundancies are planned as a result of the agreement and pensions and welfare benefits would be unaffected.

The contractors argue that without a streamlined agreement it will be impossible for them to remain competitive long term, with the result that more projects might have to be completed through the use of agency labour.

However, Unite has accused the employers of trying to cut rates of pay by putting semi-skilled workers into skilled jobs to reduce costs. It also accuses firms of trying to bully workers into accepting the new terms by threatening to dismiss them if they refuse to sign.

“None of that is true,” said Mr Judd. “The union can rest assured there will be no reduction in job numbers as a direct result of the BESNA.

“The industry desperately needs to hang on to its existing skills base, with the result that employers will be doing everything they can to persuade their workforce to remain in their jobs under the new agreement.

“Of course, it is impossible absolutely to guarantee that exactly the same 6,000 workers will continue to be in the workforce at the end of the process.

“It could be that the process of modernising and upskilling will persuade some to move on, but that will be their decision.”