Electricians protest against deskilling and lower wages

Updated 26th March 2021, originally posted 19th & 13th March 2021

by Rob Williams, Hackney Socialist Party

London 26th March

The sparks took the fight against deskilling to the upmarket streets of Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House. The job is run by NG Bailey, one of the main companies behind the Electrical Service Operator (ESO) grade that threatens to have 70% of electricians’ work done by unskilled and cheaper labour to boost the bosses’ profits.

This was one of four protests organised in a campaign that is building, and there are signs that the bosses are being pushed back.

Unite EC member Frank Morris told protesting electricians that EDF at Hinkley Point is moving, but the likes of NG Baileys and Balfours haven’t withdrawn the threat of ESO, so the fight has to continue.

Frank told Reel News: “Twenty five years ago, Balfour Beatty rewired the Opera House and then blacklisted its entire workforce, and 25 years later they’re still at it.” As one of the sparks said: “If we show solidarity and unity, we’ve got these companies on the run.”

See also Latest from Swansea and Motherwell

London 19th March

The construction electricians took their struggle against deskilling to the ‘belly of the beast’ in the third week of action.

London de-skilling protest
Photo: Isai Priya (Socialist Party)

Workers protested outside the headquarters of Balfour Beatty in Canary Wharf against the bringing in of the ESO grade that would open the door to a huge percentage of electrical work being done by unskilled labour.

This would be used to shatter the pay and terms and conditions of electricians, boosting the profits of the bosses.

The sparks’ campaign has already forced the suspension of the ESO course at Hinkley Point nuclear power station site. But workers are determined that it must be taken off the table totally.

If the likes of Balfour and NG Bailey don’t guarantee this, the fight will be taken to the construction sites and protests will be turned into walkouts.

See also Report from Cardiff

Sparks deskilling protests

by Isai Priya, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

Socialist Party members in London joined around 50 rank-and-file construction electricians, members of general union Unite, to protest against deskilling on 3 March.

The workers have been boosted by forcing back plans to train new ‘electrical support operative’ (ESO) grades at the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant. These would have done electrical work at lower wages than time-served electricians. The action organised by the sparks started with workers protesting at the headquarters of NG Baileys and then marching to different construction sites – receiving support from the workers on sites.

Construction workers have also had high rates of death involving Covid-19, working on unsafe sites with no adequate PPE. More than 360 construction workers died between 9 March and 25 May last year while suffering from coronavirus.

The Socialist Party has called for the closing of unsafe working sites and the stoppage of non-essential jobs. Our placards and leaflet calling for support and shutting the sites to stop deskilling were welcomed.

The protest itself was very enjoyable – fun, lively and power-packed. It included construction workers who have been working in the industry for up to 50 years and some who joined recently. Workers were acting together to fight and defend their rights. Their collective action has already forced a retreat. The training course for ESOs may have been suspended but the fight continues until the threat of deskilling is off the agenda.

Every Wednesday they will be out again and we will be supporting them all the way. We sold six copies of the Socialist — two for the solidarity price.

See also reports from Swansea and Grangemouth