The likelihood of strikes this summer at HTC Wolffkran, the UK’s largest tower crane operator, have taken a dramatic step forward after peace talks collapsed in an ongoing pay dispute.
Unite, the UK’s largest construction union, warned in March that strike action at HTC Wolffkran was likely after workers unanimously rejected a pay offer, describing it as ‘derisory’ and ‘insulting’.
Following Unite’s warning about the likelihood of strikes, talks to resolve the dispute were arranged yesterday (May 10) under the auspices of conciliation service Acas. However after six hours the talks collapsed as the company insisted it would only increase its offer by just 0.5 per cent.
HTC’s revised offer was for a 3 per cent increase and a commitment to move to the standard industry number of holidays. However the company also shifted the goalposts by insisting it would only make a two year pay offer when a one year deal was the only offer previously discussed.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is expected to reach 3.4 to 3.5 per cent this year and the Retail Price Index (RPI) which is usually higher is already above 3 per cent.
The most recent accounts filed by HTC Wolffkran reveal that the company recorded a 46 per cent increase in gross profits, with an operating profit of £4.3m.
Acting national officer for construction Jerry Swain said, “The company’s latest pay offer is frankly pathetic and way below our members’ expectations whose pay has fallen in real terms in the last decade. Unite will be preparing to launch a full industrial action ballot.
“Our members are not going to accept a below inflation offer from a company which has seen profits soar. This offer represents a cut in real terms to our members’ pay.”
The strategic nature of tower cranes means that industrial action will have a massive effect and create serious delays on the sites they are operating on.
Major sites where HTC Wolffkran is currently operating include: the Tottenham Hotspur football stadium, the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush, the BBC TV centre at White City and the new Goldmans Sachs building in Farringdon.
Workers are unhappy that wages have not reached the level in real terms they were prior to the 2008 construction recession.
Swain added, “The company needs to understand that crane drivers undertake a highly skilled job in stressful, difficult conditions and want to be properly rewarded for their work.
“The only way that HTC can avoid major industrial action is if the company returns to the negotiating table with a substantially improved offer.
“If strike action occurs it will result in major industrial disruption which will have a massive effect on all sites where the company operates.”