Concerns about the employment and recruitment practices at the energy-from-waste plant being built at the Wilton complex on Teesside have been expressed by Unite, the country’s largest union.
The dispute involves the construction project, which is a joint venture between SITA SEMBCORP UK, a consortium led by SITA UK. Unite claims that it is being built outside of the terms of all the national agreements (CIJC and NAECI) for the construction industry, which have been in place for more than 30 years.
Unite has members working on the £200m plant, and says it 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”.
Unite regional officer Steve Cason – “Our members have expressed serious concern about the lack of opportunity to train the next generation of apprenticeships to acquire the skills and experience to maintain these plants in the future”
Unite also says it is worried at the lack of job opportunities for people from the local community. The union would like to see all the companies taking the lead on apprenticeships and ensuring opportunities are available for young people.
According to Unite, there also appears to be a high number of agency labour onsite, operating through umbrella companies who are employed with no employment rights.
A public meeting called by Construction Activists Committee on Teesside will be held on Saturday (18 April) at Majuba car park in Redcar TS10 5BJ starting at 10.00 for an update on the current situation. Officers from Unite, the GMB and Ucatt will be in attendance.
Unite regional officer Steve Cason said: “The public meeting is to inform people of developments at the plant – a joint venture by Sita and Sembcorp which has been dogged by a lack of transparency as to their employment and recruitment practices.
“Talks were held this week with the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, which awarded the 30-year £1.2bn contract to Sita to turn waste into energy. The talks centred on access to the workforce, rates of pay and welfare facilities for all workers.
“Other issues raised included bonus and overtime rates, as well as holiday pay and the contractors have been asked to provide answers to these questions.
“Our members have expressed serious concern about the lack of opportunity to train the next generation of apprenticeships to acquire the skills and experience to maintain these plants in the future.
“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.”
The contract is to manage over 430,000 tonnes of residual household waste each year from Merseyside and Halton. It includes the design, build, finance and operation of two key facilities: a rail loading waste transfer station in Merseyside and a new purpose-built energy-from-waste facility in Teesside.
Both key facilities are expected to be operational by 2016.
CIWM Journal Online has received a comment from Sita, which says: “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.”