Workers building an Amazon fulfilment centre in Gateshead recently took wildcat action against a de-skilling attempt. This follows from the recent victory in the national "No to ESO" construction rank and file struggle over de-skilling at Hinkley Point C.
Earlier this year, the construction industry saw a major struggle between rank-and-file sparks (electricians) and the employers Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey, which ended with the employers completely backing down on their plans to de-skill the trade.
In a further development, on Wednesday June 16th, rank and file sparks in Gateshead picketed out the site where an Amazon fulfilment centre was being built, after reports that contractor SSE Enterprise Contracting was using unskilled labour to carry out electrical installation work.
In a statement to the press, Jim Harte, Chair of the Construction Rank & File, said "In this case SSE Enterprise Contracting are using unskilled workers to carry out skilled electrical roles, undermining highly skilled work, the quality of the product and the health and safety of the workers and customers.
"Rank and File M&E workers will not tolerate this kind of behaviour on our sites and we will target any company who does not abide by, or tries to undermine our collective agreements.
"There is no such thing as an Electrical Mate within our national agreements and we urge SSE Enterprise Contracting to stop using labourers to terminate cables and employ highly trained and qualified electricians."
The action initially appeared to have been successful, as a follow-up statement from the rank and file network added:
"Yesterday, rank and file sparks demonstrated outside of the new Amazon site in Gateshead.
This was in opposition to the use of labourers to connect up electrical systems. This is a step too far and we should not accept this any longer.
60 sparks refused to cross the picket and after the demo, went home for the day.
The result is that the main contractor has insisted that this stops and electricians are hired to complete the work. The agencies in the North East are now desperately looking for sparks with rates rising.
This, along with the recent victory in the fight with NGB/BBK, over the ESO grade should give every spark in the country the confidence to fight to regain our trade from these money grabbing chances.
Anyone on a job, anywhere in the country, where labourers outnumber electricians, or where labourers are doing the electrical work, should feel empowered to reach out to the rank and file, join us, and put an end to this."
However, in the following days, at least 30 workers were sacked for having taken part in the action. As of Monday June 21st, workers had announced their intention to picket the site again and to continue until all the sacked workers were reinstated.