Power generation workers face undercutting and exploitation, MPs told

Updated: 

Construction workers on smaller power plants are having their wages undercut by migrant workers who are in turn exploited by "unscrupulous" companies using "deliberate subterfuge", an MP has said.

Labour's Tom Blenkinsop said workers at solid biomass and combined heat and power plants producing 50 megawatts (MW) of electricity or less are not guaranteed national industry agreed terms and conditions.

As a result companies are using complex arrangements to "avoid and evade" industry standards for workers in the power generation sector, he said.

Mr Blenkinsop said this is leading to frustration, unrest and mass protests in areas such as Teesside which have already seen heavy job losses in steel and other industries.

Because power plants producing less than 50MW are given planning permission by councils, rather than coming under national planning consent, permission does not require agreements such as Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) terms and conditions for construction workers.

This has led to undercutting of the NAECI wage rate of £16 to £64 an hour, depending on skill, with largely migrant workforces being hired on 9-13 euros, approximately £7 to £10 an hour, Mr Blenkinsop said.

The Middlesbrough South and Cleveland MP described it as a "race to the bottom".

He told the Commons: "Both civil and engineering construction is a lifestyle choice demanding commitment, loyalty and hard graft, where workers more often than not work long hours under arduous or sometimes dangerous conditions to produce the end product.

"However all those great virtues count for nothing when the dice are loaded against you.

"From Teesside to South Yorkshire, Scotland to Wales, a recent epidemic of deliberate subterfuge is being used to avoid and evade industry standards for terms and conditions of construction workers in the power generation sector."

He went on: "The sleight of hand employed and the deliberate use of opaque contractual arrangements via umbrella companies which are seeing workers paying their own national insurance twice is universally known.

"Put this together with the potential undercutting and exploitation of migrant workers, this only frustrates an area and its people which has seen massive privation, in light of closures at SSI steel, Caparo Harlepool, Air Products, Boulby Potash but to mention a few of the sites undergoing closure or job losses.

"This frustration has culminated in a year-long escalation of unrest in the construction industry fraternity."

Moving his Town and Country Planning (Electricity Generating Consent) Bill under a Ten Minute Rule motion, Mr Blenkinsop called for collective agreements for all power plants.

"Without blanket collective bargaining for workers, firms will use caveats to exploit," he said.

"A support of collective bargaining and a support of collectively bargained nationally agreed terms is the only solution to prevent exploitation of immigrant labour and the real tangible means by which we as a nation can prevent the deliberate social discord created amongst our own communities by the means of effectively excluding workers from our own towns from seeking and achieving meaningful employment."

The Bill has the support of Labour MPs and its second reading was scheduled for May 13.

But it is unlikely to make progress due to a lack of parliamentary time.