Construction rank and file beat the bosses: No to ESO de-skilling dispute ends in a win!

After an extended campaign of direct action led by rank and file electricians, construction firms Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey have agreed to workers' demands and abandoned the controversial Electrical Support Operative grade.

Submitted by R Totale on June 10, 2021

Throughout the last few months, rank and file electricians have been organising against Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey, two construction companies that were attempting to de-skill their trade by introducing a new "Electrical Support Operative" grade.
The planned grade, due to be introduced at the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor site, would have seen workers without full training carrying out vital electrical work. De-skilling of electrical work would cause serious safety issues anywhere, but applied to a nuclear power plant, workers warned that it had the potential to lead to a "nuclear Grenfell."
Over the course of the No2ESO dispute, workers blockaded the Hinkley Point site itself, occupied the offices of companies that held contracts with Balfour and Bailey, and then shut down work at an Atomic Weapons Establishment site.
This consistent pressure eventually drove the companies to the negotiating table, and now the two companies have issued a joint statement confirming that the disputed electrical training standards "do not form part of our current or future development plans".

Commenting on the victory, the Electrical & Mechanical Combine stated:

"Since January this year, when the EMC discovered that training standards had been developed by the ECITB for containment and cabling, our activists staged a fightback. The resultant actions ensured that the training standards were withdrawn from Hinckley Point, within weeks.

The ESO has been removed and the Electrical Labourer, with no installation duties, is now in its place. This, in itself, is a fantastic achievement that all involved should be proud of.

Assurances were sought from the contractors that these standards and semi-skilled roles were not the start of a wider de-skilling agenda. Our rank and file members held demonstrations, leafletted, took part in the occupations and banner drops every week for the past three months. We salute those who have supported the campaign and those who have helped push back on a deskilling agenda which we believe would have had catastrophic consequences for our members...

We will soon be entering into negotiations where our position is to have a standalone section within the HPC agreement where the JIB/SJIB standards take preference that includes grading, training and apprenticeships.

This has to be our goal. Together we can win this particular battle, but there is much more to gain. Deskilling is rife, with the use of false improvers and mates on the increase. Issues around the use of agency labour, direct employment, blacklisting and bogus self-employment need to be tackled, as well as the wages that are well below our value."

The JIB Electrician account, which had helped to publicise the dispute, summed it up as:

"Rank & File Sparks have once again fought back and defeated the attempted deskilling of the electrical trade.

NG Bailey and Balfour Beatty, get back in your box and take your deskilling agenda with you.

Direct action works."

Similarly, blacklisted construction worker Dave Smith commented that:

"After 4 months of direct action, Balfour Beatty & NG Baileys, have completely capitulated & withdrawn all proposals to deskill electrical contracting. With big battles looming, the union movement can learn lessons from this historic victory. [The] significance of this dispute cannot be [overstated]. Firms tried to drive through changes that would've seen huge job losses & pay cuts. Yet despite anti-union laws, rank & file closed down AWE [Atomic Weapons Establishment] & blockaded major construction projects."