French utility firm hopes to minimise risk of industrial action at Hinkley Point and Sizewell

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The Independent Online

EDF Energy is looking to secure high-level agreements with the UK's largest unions to remove any threat of strikes on a proposed £20bn nuclear power plant.

The French giant plans to build the first of a new wave of nuclear power plants at Hinkley Point and Sizewell by 2018 and is keen to ensure it lays the groundwork for a smooth construction process. Government officials need nuclear developers to meet a strict timetable to tackle a yawning energy gap.

Hinkley Point and Sizewell, two of 10 nuclear reactor sites identified by the previous government, will create 5,000 construction jobs and 900 permanent jobs.

An EDF spokeswoman said: "EDF Energy recognises the importance and value of having the right agreements and relationships in place and fully intends to develop appropriate arrangements as part of its nuclear new build construction project. Careful consideration is being given to this and the way forward will be shared in due course."

Hamish Lal, a construction partner at lawyer Jones Day, said: "What EDF is trying to do is hedge the risk of delay to the construction phase."

Negotiations between EDF, led by its chief executive, Vincent de Rivaz, and the unions will formally begin once the main construction contracts are let and a final delivery programme is being drawn up. So far, only preliminary works, amounting to around £50m, are taking place.

But after a week where the Trades Union Congress warned of looming wide-scale industrial unrest and as the Coalition has yet to clarify its nuclear plans, ensuring union cooperation will be essential.

GMB and Unite, which represent many of the workers who will build the plants, are already drawing up their wishlists. Unite has written to EDF making it clear it will insist the projects should fall under the National Engineering and Construction Industry Agreement employment framework.

A Unite spokesman said: "One of the things we would really like to see happen is for the construction workers to have continuous employment so they can move from one project to the next. Once you have done one [station] you are fully trained up and ready for the next and it will create security of employment."

It is thought that the other unions could seek to secure similar "principles of co-operation" agreements.

Agreements governing large projects have worked well in the past. Heathrow's Terminal 5 and the London 2012 Olympics developments have been guided by such agreements. They are not legally binding but create a positive partnership agreement.