By Simon Basketter
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A deepening revolt in construction sees more unofficial walkouts

This article is over 6 years, 4 months old
Issue 2471
Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria
Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria (Pic: Dafydd Waters/Flickr)

Construction workers turned a three-hour stoppage on Wednesday of last week into a three-day unofficial strike at Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

The spark was “heavy handed” policing at a strike as part of an ongoing health and safety dispute. The workers are also demanding that the union reps have proper facilities.

Workers at 14 different sub-contractors are involved in the dispute. 

They point out a number of small disputes have accumulated into the current battle.

The Unite union members returned to work on Monday. A further three-hour strike was planned for Wednesday of this week followed by a full day of action on 23 September. 

Steve Gibbons, a Unite official, said the walkout decision was due to the “aggressive stance” taken towards picketing strikers yesterday by Cumbria Police.

He added, “The picketers were legally entitled to be there, and the police opened an extra gate at Sellafield to deliberately filter motorists away from them.

“The picketers conducted themselves in an appropriate manner but a number were spoken to aggressively by the police and were generally treated badly.”

The longstanding row centres on contractors’ health and safety concerns. They are asking for a full-time union convenor on site and their own health and safety committee.

Workers at a number of other construction sites downed tools in support of the Sellafield workers

Teesside action over pay and safety

Construction workers and their supporters in Teesside were joined by 70 striking scaffolders during a protest at the waste to energy plant on the Wilton ICI site near Redcar, on Friday of last week. 

The scaffolders walked out unofficially the day before over non-payment of national rates of pay and safety concerns. 

They have promised further action if they are not given the rate for the job. Nationally agreed industry rates also lie at the heart of the protesters’ dispute. 

Sita Sembcorp subcontractors at the site pay European workers a rate less than the minimum wage, after deductions, and less than half the agreed national industry “Blue Book” rate.

Despite threats to revoke site passes and arrest protesters the workers have remained resolute for nine months. Nor have they allowed the dispute to become racist. 

Gary told Socialist Worker, “We want them to stop lying, and we want them to pay the foreign workers the going rate. We had one EDL bloke come here and he wasn’t welcome.”

Although management has so far refused to undertake the wages audit the unions request, the dispute has been successful in protecting future contracts. 

Gary said, “The next job that’s being done—Sita at Teesport—is on the blue book.” 

He said that Liverpool and the Northwest plan a joint construction committee with representatives from GMB, Unite and Ucatt. 

“That’s what we’ve done here,” he said. “Teesside construction is showing the way.” 

Another worker said both strikers and protesters need solidarity. “A couple of hundred men on each gate. Job sorted.”

Another protest is set for Friday of this week, from 5am-9am.

Kim Hunter

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