Some 1,500 construction workers struck unofficially at the Essar Stanlow refinery site near Liverpool last week and won a £1,500 payment. They are also being paid for the four days they struck.
Workers at the Ellesmere Port site come under the Naeci or blue book national agreement. One told Socialist Worker, “We walked off at dinner time on Thursday.
“The bonus rate under the Naeci is £2.37 we’re looking to get that up. And we’re looking to get a loyalty bonus for completion of the work.”
According to another worker, “There are many holes in the national agreement, but the main one is that it gave us a pay rise of just 2.5 percent in January this year and promises another 2.5 percent in January next year. That is so far behind inflation it’s a joke.”
On Friday bosses told the workers that they would be getting nothing. The contractor Bilfinger sent out a letter to workers demanding that the unions repudiate the walkout and the workers stop all unofficial action.
They claimed they couldn’t pay anything because to do so would break the national agreement. Bosses wrote, “We treat this action as unofficial industrial action and as such deem that such action is both unsupported and unlawful.”
They proclaimed, “You will not be paid for the period when you take part in this action, and would advise you that you will also forfeit any radius payments and accommodation allowance.” It added, “This action is an act of potential gross misconduct, and any repeat of such action may result in disciplinary action, which may lead to dismissal.”
The workers stayed out. On Monday morning workers were again told nothing was coming from the bosses, and they should get back to work. They didn’t and by midday the situation had changed.
Workers estimated that the closing of the site would cost the bosses around £8 million a day. One told Socialist Worker, “I think that may have focused their minds a bit. The job is a long way down as well, so it is not easy just to move on without us.”
Groups of workers protested across a number of Naeci construction sites in August over the cost of living. Police and security have been turning up on weekday mornings to a number of sites including Stanlow in case of protests. But workers chose their own moment to take action.
The workers included in their demands a call for an additional paid ten minutes a day to cover the time lost getting on and off site. One said, “It takes about ten minutes to get to the car park, then you have a couple of thousand people all trying to get in their cars and leave at the same time, that makes it chaos.”
“We’ll come back to that one,” the worker told Socialist Worker, adding “They blinked first. Some of us thought we should have stayed out, but a win’s a win.”
The workers voted to go back to work on Tuesday, not Monday afternoon as the bosses requested. The fight on the site for decent pay and conditions is far from over.
What is clear is that there is a mood for a fight across a whole range of sites. What Stanlow workers have shown is that if the mood is turned into action—officially or not—it can get results.
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