Row over 'exploited' power station staff

Italian workers on a British power station project have been underpaid by over £1,000 a month, union leaders claimed after an audit of wage rates on the site.

The GMB announced plans for protest demonstrations in London next month at the offices of a leading construction firm, and against business secretary Lord Mandelson, to demand an end to the "exploitation."

The audit of pay rates at the Staythorpe power station site near Newark in Nottinghamshire revealed that Italian workers employed by sub-contractors were being underpaid by 1,300 euro a month, said unions.

A row over employment at construction sites sparked a series of unofficial strikes last year and was only resolved after months of talks which headed off the threat of official action by thousands of workers.

Unions had complained that local workers were being denied the chance to apply for jobs and that foreign contractors were undercutting UK labour by underpaying and exploiting migrant labour.

The GMB said today it will stage protest demonstrations next month outside Alstom's head office and the offices of Lord Mandelson calling for action to end the wage "undercutting".

The union said that both Alstom and Lord Mandelson had given assurances that undercutting was not happening.

GMB regional officer Andy Fletcher said the audit's findings will further exacerbate a "very tense" situation on the Staythorpe site.

The union is already balloting its members for strikes in a row over pay and the redundancy process.

General secretary Paul Kenny said: "GMB has on numerous occasions advised employers and Government that these practices were happening. GMB said that the only reason employers were bringing in overseas labour while local labour was on the dole was because they were paying them less.

"These findings show that some employers had set out to undermine the national agreement not only on pay but also on safe construction.

"Both Alstom and Lord Mandelson denied that this was happening. GMB demand that heads should roll, that undercutting ends and that the UK workforce be put to work. Our protest in London is to say clearly that we will not be fobbed off any more."

Unite's assistant general secretary, Les Bayliss, said: "The underpayment of these workers is outrageous. We have demanded that the workers are paid back in full. These revelations are proof that construction workers have genuine concerns which the industry has consistently tried to deny existed.

"Some workers at Staythorpe were losing out on thousands of pounds in pay that they were rightly owed. Unite will not allow employers to get away with breaking agreements and underpaying its workers, regardless of nationality.

"The UK is on the brink of a major programme to build new power stations. The actions of some contractors are putting contractors who play by the rules at a serious disadvantage when bidding for work.

"The main contractors and auditors at engineering construction sites across the country need to do more to ensure these practices are not being repeated elsewhere."

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