Backbench Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop has launched a stinging attack on energy from waste (EfW) and biomass construction companies that he says are undercutting national pay agreements by using migrant labour on lower wages.
The Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP launched a private member’s bill in the House of Commons which calls for electricity generation facilities of 50MW or less to be included under National Agreement for the Engineering and Construction Industry (NAECI) pay rates.
Currently smaller EfW, biomass and other power plants are not included under the national planning permission regime, but are instead considered by local authorities.
Blenkinsop referred to “mass protests” last year over the Wilton 11 EfW plant under construction near Redcar, Teesside, “with a predominantly non-UK labour force”.
He also mentioned union-organised protests at a £150m waste wood biomass plant under construction in Rotherham by Templeborough Biomass Power Plant and Viridor’s £177m EfW site in East Lothian, Scotland.
The main contractor for the two sites is a consortium of Babcock Wilcox VØlund and Interserve Construction.
Blenkinsop said the “largely migrant workforce” on the projects were being paid between £7 and £10 an hour compared with between £16 and £64 an hour under NAECI rates. He warned of potential exploitation of migrant workers.
Speaking at the Commons, Blenkinsop said: “From Teesside to south Yorkshire, from Scotland to Wales, there has been a recent epidemic of deliberate subterfuge to avoid and evade the industry standard for terms and conditions for construction workers in the power generation sector.”
He added that local authority planning consent for EfW or biomass schemes “will almost certainly not carry the necessary requirements of collective agreements, such as NAECI terms and conditions”.
Wilton 11 is being built by Merseyside Energy Recovery – formerly Sita Sembcorp UK – of which Suez has a minority shareholding.
Construction is being undertaken by CNIM Clugston Wilton, a joint venture between CNIM and Clugston.
CNIM Clugston Wilton terminated contracts with two subcontractors after they failed to respond to an investigation looking into contractors’ pay rates.
A continuing dispute at Wilton has centred on allegations that workers are not being paid in accordance with agreed industry rates. Suez has refuted these claims and has carried out an audit of the site’s 60 contractors.
In November last year Suez UKcChief executive David Palmer-Jones said protesters were demonstrating on the basis of “unproven allegations about contractors’ rates of pay” at the Merseyside Energy Recovery development.
He said: “Yet Suez is only a minor shareholder in Merseyside Energy Recovery, and has no influence over the terms and conditions offered by contractors to their workers at that site.”