The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 16th June 2017

Unions take undercutting fight to Copenhagen

MEMBERS of the unions Unite and GMB last Tuesday travelled to Copenhagen to protest outside the headquarters of the company PensionDanmark over ‘social dumping’ and the use of imported workers at two construction sites in Britain on low pay and conditions that undermine the terms negotiated by the unions.

The two plants are at Rotherham in Yorkshire and Sandwich in Kent, where workers employed by sub-contractors are being paid reportedly up to 61 per cent below the agreed rates of the relevant collective agreements.

The unions have been told that the company pays Croatian workers the minimum wage of £7.20 per hour. The appropriate collective agreement for engineering construction workers [National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI)] is £16.97 per hour with a bonus of £2.37 per hour.

Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor refuses to allow trade unions on their site. They also refuse to follow the NAECI agreement and do not pay the bonus, industry sick pay, enhanced holiday pay, travel and accommodation allowances, benefit entitlements for death and disablement, unfair dismissal procedures after four weeks and many other benefits.

This would be illegal in Denmark but in Britain the only legal protection workers have is the minimum wage legislation. This is the second time the unions have travelled to Copenhagen to protest at this exploitation.

PensionDanmark, a financier of major energy from waste plants, is trying to wash its hands of responsibility and pass the blame on to the sub-contractors: Babcock & Wilcox Vølund at Rotherham, and Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor at Sandwich.

They are both Danish companies. Since the unions exposed their unscrupulous practices earlier this year neither company has taken any action to end the exploitation of those workers employed through their supply chain, by reversing their aggressive undercutting policies.

Both projects are being financed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, the investment arm of PensionDanmark.

refused to meet

Despite PensionDanmark having extensive corporate social responsibility policies, outlawing exploitation on projects at home and abroad, Jens-Christian Stouguard, the senior vice-president of the organisation, has refused to meet the unions. He claims it is a matter for the sub-contractors.

Despite the senior representatives of PensionDanmark refusing to meet the unions from Britain, the Danish trade unionists who sit on the board have willingly agreed to a meeting and it is expected that they will bring additional pressure to bear to help end the exploitation.

Unite national officer for construction, Bernard McAulay, said: “The senior representatives at PensionDanmark are doing a good impression of Pontius Pilate by trying to wash their hands of the exploitation which is occurring on their projects.

“Highly skilled workers feel betrayed by the failure of PensionDanmark to observe its corporate social responsibility policies.

“Since the unions exposed this appalling exploitation, there have been warm words from one contractor but no action, while rates continue to be undercut and the resentment of workers increases.

“We call upon the PensionDanmark board of directors to meet with the UK trade unions instead of continuing to look for excuses, and move swiftly to end the abuses that are occurring on their projects. They have put in the investment and therefore are ultimately responsible for what occurs on their projects.”

Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer for construction, said: “We’re back in Copenhagen to show both PensionDanmark and the Danish government the problem of undercutting hasn’t gone away — and neither will we.

“They need to take action against the companies involved in this exploitative, nasty business.

“Our members deserve a fair wage — and shouldn’t miss out on jobs just because they demand one. And foreign workers deserve not to be exploited.

“PensionDanmark and the Danish government should know we will be back, as many times as necessary, to see this through.”