Employers statement last night was followed by a call to end all rank and file action at construction sites and employers’ offices (pictured)

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A senior Unite source has hailed the collapse of the self-appointed BESNA group of major UK construction companies and the withdrawal of the ‘sign or be sacked’ contracts as “a massive achievement”.

The decision to disband BESNA came during intense negotiations over the last week, following the High Court ruling which would have allowed Unite to take official strike action for the first time against the largest of the companies – Balfour Beatty.

In the meantime, a number protests around the country, from London to Aberdeen, which had been scheduled for Friday, have been cancelled. (Pictured, Unite protest this week at head office of T Clarke, in Falkirk.)

Activists are celebrating the end of the protracted industrial battle.

“The rank and file union membership has exploded onto the scene and there’s no stopping this runaway train,” said one.

But many also hope the six months of demonstrations and unofficial blockades will be a watershed for union organisation on the construction sites themselves.

One recently-elected shop steward said: “Hopefully we can push on now and clean up our industry.”

Talks following the key High Court judgement led last Friday to Balfour management withdrawing the new contracts, which Unite said would cut skill levels and undermine job security for electricians across the sector as well as cutting pay and allowances by up to 35%.

After further negotiations the second-largest of the group, NG Bailey, withdrew on Wednesday.

That move was followed last night by a statement from the employers’ body, the HVCA, that it would withdraw what remained of the BESNA proposals.

The statement went on:“As a result of today’s decision by HVCA, Unite has agreed not to pursue further industrial action or protests against the BESNA companies.”

Welcoming the news, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This is a welcome move and is down to the resolve of hard working construction workers.

“Disruption in the construction industry is in nobody’s interest. We look forward to talking seriously about how we can secure livelihoods and bring stability to the construction industry.”

The series of carefully-worded ‘ceasefire’ statements is the opening stage of what UnionNews understands will be cross-industry negotiations, with Unite pressing for parity of status at the talks among the different employers.

Both the Unite leadership and rank and file organisers say they want a curb on the spread of agency working and enforceable measures to end blacklisting to be high on the agenda of those talks, as well as the immediate issues of pay and skill levels which first triggered the six-month dispute.


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