As part of our continued coverage of the stike of Balfour Kilpatrick employees at Hunterston nuclear power station, libcom.org interviewed one of the workers on strike.
The interviewee is an electrician who has worked for BK for over 20 years.
Why do you think Balfour Kilpatrick is withdrawing the 50p/hour at this point after thirty years?
1. In order to maintain their own commercial level of profitability.
2. Increasing pressure from the clients to reduce or maintain existing contract rates making BK less commercially viable than its competitors.
What were the circumstances leading up to the strike?
Balfour Kilpatrick informed its employees in March 2005 of their intentions to terminate a 1968 contract of employment for the construction of ‘B’ station, giving a notice period of 3 months. Subsequently the employees lodged a grievance through the auspices of the SJIB and with the backing of their union AMICUS.
Not one employee had seen or been told such an agreement existed and were of the opinion that the 50p per hour enhancement was paid purely on the basis of the fact that they were working on a nuclear establishment and the professionalism extra skills and knowledge required to work in such an establishment.
At no time was any employee led to think any differently and in fact it was intimated to each and every employee that the enhancement was paid for working in such an environment.
The Stage 1 of the SJIB grievance procedure returned a failure to agree.
The Stage 2 also returned a failure to agree.
We were then informed by AMICUS that due to the wording of the actual contract, that legally, BK were entitled to withdraw it and that proceeding with the grievance would prove fruitless.
A meeting between the employers and employees, with union representation, was arranged and it was agreed that BK would continue to pay the 50p until January 2006 when an increase in the wage rates would ‘soften the blow’ of the deduction. This was agreed on the promise that AMICUS and SELECT would, with the help of Balfour Kilpatrick, pursue a national agreement for work carried out on all nuclear establishments. (similar to other agreements ie. Oil and Gas and Offshore).
January 2006 arrived and the 50p was removed and up until that period there had been no movement by BK and SELECT in procuring a national agreement.
We felt then that they had welched on their promise and that in order to maintain our enhancement we would have to invoke rule 1.19 of the SJIB rule book. (This entitles employers and operatives the means to secure an enhanced payment in addition to the normal hourly rates of pay in relation to the utilisation of working hours, progress of work and productivity levels or any related matters).
Given that we had received an enhancement for over 30 years, we felt that the justification for such a payment was clear and had already been accepted as such as our members at short notice utilise our working hours to the benefit and productivity of our clients.
BK rejected such a proposal and we entered into the grievance procedure yet again.
By June 2006, the grievance procedure was exhausted and we failed in our bid to resurrect an enhanced payment.
There was sympathy from the SJIB disputes committee to our case but they could only apply the SJIB working rules and in that respect their conclusion was that BK had acted correctly in terminating the 1968 contract of employment, even although this time around that was not our actual grievance.
We feel that the company although “acting correctly” and “doing nothing wrong” within the rules of the SJIB, they had not acted in a fair manner regarding an enhanced payment which was paid for over 30 years had maintained favourable industrial relations between all concerned.
At no time since 1984 when the enhancement was increased to 50p per hour have we sought an increase even although clearly in relation to our hourly rate it has substantially decreased in value.
Therefore the only action open to us was to proceed with a ballot for industrial action. As you can see this decision was not taken lightly.
Have there been any other disputes at Hunterston in recent years? Or with Balfour Kilpatrick?
There have been no other disputes to my knowledge that have resulted in such ill feeling.
There was a grievance regarding travel expenses which was settled through the SJIB grievances procedures and both parties came to an amicable settlement.
Balfour Kilpatrick have worked on this site for over 30 years and there has been little unrest from its employees. Generally they have earned a high level of respect from the client and those involved in the day to day operation of the plant.
Our actions have not been taken lightly and are generally out of character for those involved.
Where did the impetus from the strike come from? Amicus or the employees?
The impotous for the strike clearly came from the employees with the aid and backing of AMICUS.
How solid is the support from British Energy employees at the plant?
The general feeling that we get is that support among BE employees, especially among fellow AMICUS members, is very strong.
Is there a possibility of extending the action to those employees? Do you think the threats by British Energy management could provoke action by those workers as well?
This would be a matter for those employees but feeling is bad due to the threatening behaviour of their own employers in any backing for our actions.
We saw some reports about the economic affects of the strike, do you think it will continue to have a high impact?
Unfortunately our action has impacted on BE and we feel that although they may be acting properly in not interfering in our dispute, ultimately it involves all concerned, employers, employees and clients.
Why two days a week? And how long do you think the strike action will continue?
Two days a week was agreed by our members as the most effective means of highlighting our dispute. The action will continue until we have our enhancement restored.
Are there negotiations going on between Amicus and Balfour Kilpatrick?
At this moment in time the employers are not negotiating with AMICUS.
Are you in communication with any other groups of workers about the dispute?
At grass roots level our members are always in contact with fellow employees of other sites who may be encountering similar grievances.
How far do you think the workers are prepared to go to win the dispute?
The workforce remain determined to get back their 50p enhancement at this
time, we will continue in our struggle with no intention of giving up.