Electricians reject 30% pay increase

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The call for wage restraint by the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be falling on deaf ears. Barrie Clement, Labour Editor, discovers that electricians have turned down a massive pay rise.

Graphic evidence of growing inflationary pressure emerged yesterday with news that electricians in the construction industry have rejected a 30 per cent pay increase over three years. Nearly 24,000 electricians voted by three to two against the package despite advice to accept from the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU).

Union officials have been sent back to the negotiating table in an attempt to secure a one-year agreement for a 7.5 per cent rise, more than double the inflation rate.

The vote against what will be seen by other employees as an extremely generous offer comes after a plea for wage restraint from the Chancellor in his Green Budget on Tuesday. Gordon Brown urged both sides of industry to bear in mind that today's pay rises could mean tomorrow's job losses.

However, electricians believe they did relatively badly throughout the recession in the construction industry and are seeking to take advantage of increasing skill shortages.

Paul Corby, a national officer of the AEEU, said electricians in the construction industry were angry over an attempt by the Electrical Contractors' Association to create a new grade of semi-skilled electrician who they believe will take over a substantial part of their work.

Mr Corby said a one-year deal granting electricians in the engineering sector a 6 per cent rise "without strings" had set a precedent. The deal on offer to his members would give them around 5.4 per cent over the first 12 months and include unacceptable conditions.

According to AEEU activists, the offer would have given their members 7 per cent in the second year and 6 per cent in the final part of the agreement. It is understood that it is highly unusual for electricians in the industry to reject a deal recommended by their leadership. There is growing evidence that some union members are dissatisfied with the AEEU and that they are seeking a more militant line on pay.

Mr Corby said his members were seeking a deal which would give them pay of around pounds 10 an hour on prestigious sites such as the Millennium Dome, the Jubilee Line and the Royal Opera House.

A spokesman for the employers pointed out that negotiators on both sides had agreed the package before it was put out to ballot. The employers, however, registered their intention to enter fresh talks.

Meanwhile research group Incomes Data Services reports that some 75 per cent of firms are facing difficulties in filling vacancies and there is little sign that recruitment will become easier in the new year.

Skill shortages are having an impact on pay, especially in the construction and information technology sectors.

"It means that some employers are resorting to exceptional measures to recruit staff and hold on to them. We're now seeing bonuses both to attract people and to persuade them to stay," the report said.