Sparks strike at Three Bridges and protect jobs on the cards

report by Ray M

Electricians in Three Bridges, Sussex, walked out this morning to defend their terms and conditions. Within hours they had forced their employers to back off and hire them on industry standard conditions.

The action involved 30 agency workers hired by NG Bailey on a Volker Fitzpatrick construction site for Network Rail. Their Unite union demanded direct employment in response to attempts by the agency to drive down conditions.

Within the space of four hours NB Bailey had agreed to cut out the agency and employ the workers on three month rolling contracts with industry standard JIB terms and conditions.

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(electricians, student activists and supporters protesting against Besna in 2011. pic by Becca Francis)

“NG Bailey are using the same agency at other Network Rail sites,” one worker told me. “Start organising — or you will be £100 a week worse off.” Rank and file construction workers are planning to target other sites in the next few days.

The agency had wanted to make workers pay for  holidays and employers’ national insurance. This is part of a trend towards “umbrella companies” — agencies that are actual employers rather than intermediaries.

Ian Bradley, a London electrician, writes on the Site Worker blog:

Most agencies though seem to be forcing their workers down the route of signing up to umbrella companies – a move which will leave workers considerably worse off… The reason the agencies are all fighting tooth and nail from having to take us all on PAYE is simple: if you are working on a site after 12 weeks you are entitled to the same terms and conditions as an employee of the same company.

Today’s action is a significant political opportunity to block the spread of casualisation and poor contracts in construction. If rank and file workers and Unite can generalise this action across different sites, we can stop the use of umbrella companies and turn agency work into direct employment.

The sparks won their battle against Besna, and the Blacklist Support Group has been making waves. With solidarity and the right organisation they can push back this latest attack. Defending three month contracts is a step forward – but we want to push further and get workers onto proper contracts.

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