Local authorities are being asked to say how much they are paying to use the energy-from-waste plant being built at the Wilton complex on Teesside, in a bid for Unite to attempt to prove that the “cash-rich employer” can pay the national rates of pay to workers.
The survey of councils across the UK by Unite, the country’s largest union, has been prompted by serious concerns about the employment and recruitment practices at the construction project, a joint venture between SITA and Sembcorp.
The focus of the dispute is that the project is being built outside of the terms of all the national agreements (CIJC and NAECI) for the construction industry.
Unite regional officer Steve Cason – “We are in the process of contacting all of the local authorities across the country to determine how much money Sita is being paid to manage waste services”
Unite has members working on the £200m energy-from-waste plant and is critical about the lack of access to workers at the project. This follows on-going concerns about undercutting of wage rates and the failure to abide by the recognised national agreements, as well as health and safety issues.
The union also says that Romanian workers contacted the protestors informing them that they had not received the €6 per hour pay for the last two months.
Unite has called on SITA/Sembcorp to investigate both claims.
Unite is also worried at the lack of job opportunities for people from the local community. The union would like to see the companies taking the lead on apprenticeships and ensuring opportunities are available for young people.
There also appears to be a high number of agency labour onsite operating through umbrella companies who are employed with no employment rights, according to the union.
Unite regional officer Steve Cason said: “We are in the process of contacting all of the local authorities across the country to determine how much money Sita is being paid to manage waste services.
“We believe the total awarded contracts will run into billions of pounds, so the issue is not that Sita can’t afford to pay the rates for the job, it just won’t pay the rates for the job.
“We could see a situation where the infrastructure to burn waste is completed and owned by SITA and, as competition is wiped out, prices to remove and burn waste from local authorities could rise, placing an unfair burden on the council taxpayer.”
Highly skilled construction workers and their supporters are protesting every week outside of the chemical complex over the issue of undercutting the national rates of pay in the construction sector – and these protests are set to continue.
Union members from Unite, the GMB and Ucatt have also vowed to step up the protests within SITA’s supply chain.
SITA – “We continue to refute all of these allegations and there’s no evidence to support any of these claims”
Steve Cason added: “SITA/Sembcorp could put an end to the mounting protests at any time by ensuring a forensic wage audit is carried out on the site, but they adamantly refuse to do this causing the dispute to escalate.
“Other issues raised included bonus and overtime rates, as well as holiday pay.
“Support from around the country is growing amongst construction workers who see their national agreements under threat from unscrupulous employers. They have vowed to come together nationally to defend their future, not only for themselves, but for the young people that enter the industry as apprentices.
“We call on the SITA and Sembcorp management to genuinely engage with us in meaningful and constructive talks, and adhere to the tried-and- tested national agreements.”
CIWM Journal Online received a comment from SITA back in April this year, when a public meeting called by Construction Activists Committee on Teesside was held.
SITA said: “Allegations continue to be made about the employment of foreign workers at the Wilton 11 construction site, including claims about low rates of pay and accommodation allowances. We continue to refute all of these allegations and there’s no evidence to support any of these claims.
“All of the workers on site, irrespective of their nationality, have rates of pay equivalent or higher to each of the unions’ relevant national agreements. Following discussions with Unite, GMB and UCATT SITA Sembcorp UK has granted Union access to the site so that they may satisfy themselves of these facts.
“Since construction began, a significant proportion of workers on site have been from the local area and we have made significant efforts to try and promote job opportunities to local workers. This included the organisation of a jobs fair at Redcar and Cleveland College on Thursday 19 February, to which 774 people attended.
“However, it is still necessary for a proportion of workers on site to be from wider European Union member states and it would be difficult to deliver a project of this nature without them.
“Energy-from-waste facilities require a great deal of specialist equipment which has had to be sourced from within the wider European Union. These elements are of a bespoke and sophisticated nature, meaning that some of our suppliers choose to use their own specialist and experienced workforce when they are fitted.
“All workers on site, regardless of their nationality, are employed because of their individual skills and abilities. They have a legal entitlement to work in the UK and contribute to the local economy while they are here, furthermore there is no substance to allegations that they are employed on site as a means of sourcing cheap labour.”