Submission to competition watchdog says new “sign or be sacked” contracts (left) are unilateral attempt to drive down wages

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Unite has announced it is reporting the seven construction companies in the so-called BESNA group to the OFT competition watchdog for acting to drive down the pay and conditions of their workers.

The complaint is the first of its kind made by a trade union.

It claims the companies are breaking competition law by tearing up the long-standing JIB agreements – which cover pay, training and safety levels – and of working together to set new terms which are not agreed by Unite.

The union estimates new contracts issued by the BESNA group will cut wages and allowance for electricians at the seven construction firms by up to 35%.

A recent survey by Unite found that up to 90% of employees who had signed the new, inferior contracts said they had only done so because the employer threatened them with dismissal if they refused.

The seven firms have set a new deadline for next April for the imposition of their new terms and conditions. The OFT says it cannot investigate all the complaints it receives, but undertakes to make an initial assessment and respond to submissions within 10 days.

Officials say they would have to decide first whether Unite’s claim met the OFT’s own priorities and criteria for intervention, such as seeking “to promote open competition, and to encourage the unrestricted availability of products and services”.

A Unite spokesman told UnionNews: “We do not take this move lightly, we’d prefer to negotiate with the seven companies, but we believe the evidence is strong that they’re acting in an uncompetitive way.”

The complaint comes ahead of a strike ballot result expected tomorrow at the construction giant, Balfour Beatty, which Unite regards as the ‘ring leader’ of the self-appointed BESNA group.

Unite national officer for construction, Bernard McAuley said: “These seven companies are trying to undermine long-standing agreements which have served this industry well for decades.

“These agreements acted as level playing field in the construction sector. By breaking away and paying significantly less, these employers will have a competitive advantage over other companies. We hope Balfour Beatty and the companies involved see sense in the face of the complaint we are making to the OFT.”


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