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Consortium pledges 'robust' action if Teesside allegations are proved

The consortium behind the Wilton 11 energy-from-waste plant under construction on Teesside has promised “a full and proper investigation” into claims from unions that contractors are using “exploitative” employment practices and are undercutting wages.

Ucatt, Unite and GMB have made repeated allegations about the facility and their representatives made a formal visit to the site on 17 August.

Construction is being undertaken by CNIM Clugston (a joint venture between CNIM and Clugston) on behalf of Sita Sembcorp UK (SSUK), a consortium of Sembcorp, Suez UK and Itochu. In turn, the consortium is contracted by the Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority.

SSUK has promised that if any allegations are shown to be true, it will take robust action against CNIM Clugston “to ensure that any anomalies or problems are immediately rectified”.

A detailed press release from SSUK has been issued following comments to MRW’s sister title Construction News by Ucatt regional secretary Denis Doody, who said: “When we got to the site, it was quickly clear that workers were being paid well below the NAECI agreement for pay.”

NAECI is the National Joint Council for the Engineering Construction Industry’s framework for workers’ hourly pay on major projects.

“We were told by a number of Croatian workers that they were being paid €9 (£6.54),” Doody added. “This is nearly minimum wage.”

The unions also claim that a number of workers at the site were being employed through umbrella companies, meaning they pay both employee and employer national insurance contributions.

SSUK responded: “Of a workforce of approximately 750 people on-site, employed by more than 30 sub-contractors working for CNIM Clugston, we understand that a dozen or so individuals chose to meet union representatives on 17 August. Following these meetings, the unions relayed a number of issues arising from them and asked SSUK to investigate with CNIM Clugston. Conversely, following the meetings, the unions agreed to drop a number of previous allegations which had been shown to be baseless.”

SSUK has told CNIM Clugston to produce a detailed response to the issues and evidence to either substantiate or refute each individual claim.

The statement goes on to say that SSUK “acknowledges the allegations made by the trade unions as a result of meeting with some of the workforce”. 

It goes on: “From prior investigations, we are, however, clear on our position in respect of the legality of all employment practices on-site and that, while umbrella contracts are used in some instances, these comply with all HMRC guidance and applicable UK laws.”

SSUK complains that the unions have continued to air grievances even though all sides agreed to a period of seven working days to allow SSUK and CNIM Clugston to investigate matters properly.

The consortium disagrees that workers were being exploited or treated “deplorably”.

“CNIM Clugston has consistently led us to believe that all workers on-site are paid a rate equivalent to the unions’ respective voluntary working rate agreements – which are at the centre of this debate.

“If any of the allegations are proven to be true, SSUK will take robust action against CNIM Clugston to ensure that any anomalies or problems are immediately rectified.

“Throughout this long-running dispute, workers employed on-site have not been involved in union-supported protest action, nor have they complained to SSUK or CNIM Clugston about their pay or terms of employment, despite every opportunity to do so and, indeed, pressure to do so by the unions and activists.”

CNIM Clugston, contacted for comment, has indicated that media responses are coming from SSUK.

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