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Industrial Crossrail staff stage solidarity strike

Firm ‘targets trade union activists’ in mass sacking

ELECTRICIANS working on London’s flagship Crossrail project walked out yesterday in solidarity with 54 colleagues who were made redundant earlier this week.

Workers have accused bosses at Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick, a construction firm caught up in the recent blacklisting scandal, of targeting union activists when they laid off over 50 electricians on Tuesday.

The redundancies were announced just a few weeks after the workforce at Crossrail’s Woolwich site announced a ballot for strike action in protest at not being given the additional bonus payment that is traditionally offered to workers on large jobs.

Around 150 electricians at Woolwich walked out yesterday morning in solidarity with the laid-off workers. They were joined by around 70 fellow electricians employed at smaller “portals” at Plumstead, North Woolwich and City Airport.

“[Managers] took them out to get rid of the lads because they were going to ballot,” one electrician on the site who preferred not be named said. “All of us are out-of-town lads, all travelling men. We arrived on the job transferred down.

“But they pushed them out because they were asking for an advanced bonus payment. There had never been a payment agreed with that site.”

The worker alleged that a previous subcontractor had been pushed off the Woolwich site after workers asked for the bonus payment.

According to sources close to the dispute, bosses picked off longstanding Unite activists rather than following the traditional “last in, first out” approach to redundancies.

Workers have accused Balfour Beatty Engineering Services boss Gerry Harvey of being behind the sackings. Mr Harvey was named on the notorious Consulting Association’s secret blacklist of construction workers, which was uncovered in a government raid in 2009.

Balfour Beatty insisted that the redundancies had nothing to do with the bonus issue, claiming it had “always been clear that our works would start to wind down towards the end of this year.” The company said it had been “unable to redeploy” the workers onto other projects.

“On November 8, we commenced a 45-day redundancy consultation period with Unite regarding the Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick workforce on the project,” a spokeswoman added.

“We made it clear that 50 to 60 operatives would be released from the project before Christmas. Yesterday, these employees were informed they would commence gardening leave as of today with their employment ending on December 22.

“Today, a group of employees have assembled on site to protest about the redundancy consultation. This has not impacted our ongoing works on site. We respect people’s right to have their say and protest peacefully.”

Crossrail sites have faced a number of walkouts by rank-and-file electricians in recent years, amid allegations of blacklisting and victimisation. The Woolwich dispute is expected to spread to other sites today.

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