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Union urges minister to investigate employment claims

Unite has called on the Scottish Government to look into the union’s allegation that local workers are being shut out of employment opportunities at Viridor’s new £177m energy-from-waste (EfW) plant in East Lothian.

Unite has written to environment secretary Richard Lochhead seeking talks over claims that national employment agreements for the industry have been ignored and local workers have been excluded from accessing 250-300 skilled jobs at the Oxwellmains facility in Dunbar.

In response, Viridor told MRW that its main contractor will maximise local employment, has made two major awards to Scottish sub-contractors and brought in locally sourced materials.

In a statement, Unite alleged significant recruitment of labour from the continent and the undercutting of the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry, which sets terms and conditions for hourly-paid workers on major projects.

Unite national officer Bernard McAulay said: “We want the Government to bring all parties to the table and ensure Viridor and its sub-contractors sign up to our national trade agreement or a specific project agreement.”

According to McAulay, payment issues have become a major concern for the union, with contractors at other EfW project sites paying foreign workers the equivalent of €8 (£5.65) per hour compared with the estimated €21 (£14.80) per hour under the agreement.

Viridor confirmed that Unite had made contact to request a meeting on 6 August, the same day the union issued its public statement.

A spokesman said: “Viridor’s £177m merchant investment at Dunbar, East Lothian, is part of £357m invested in next generation Scottish recycling and green energy infrastructure in the past 18 months alone. This investment is vital to translating Scottish zero waste policy into practice, helping councils, companies and communities become cleaner and greener.

“In addition to already working with East Lothian Council’s economic development team, established programmes such as our partnership with the Engineering Development Trust are already in place to maximise skilled and professional opportunities for young people.

“The contractor announced its intention to maximise local employment and supply chain opportunities in July via a series of recruitment and ‘meet the buyer’ events, and it looks forward to confirming dates shortly. Indeed, it has made two major subcontract awards to Scottish companies, Fairhurst consulting engineers and Land Engineering, with stone for the earthworks being sourced from within East Lothian.”

Earlier this month Suez UK rejected Unite allegations that the company and its construction partner Sembcorp failed to recognise the same agreement for workers building an EfW plant on Teesside. 

The body responsible for the national agreement, the Engineering Construction Industry Association, declined to comment.

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