The French energy giant EDF is set for a showdown with British unions over pay for more than 5,000 workers at its money-spinning power stations, in a dispute that could lead to strikes.
The GMB, Unite and Prospect unions are angry that crane drivers, radiation monitors, engineers and safety experts have been offered only a 2 per cent increase at EDF's nuclear stations and thermal power plants. In the latest sign that unions are baring their teeth after years of real-term pay cuts across British business, there could be a vote on industrial action as early as next month.
Workplace tensions that threaten a summer of strikes have also spread to the Post Office and Royal Mail, which is preparing to privatise. The Communication Workers Union, which opposes the sale, will announce the result of a ballot of members on Wednesday that could see it boycott the delivery of letters for rival firms' such as TNT Post.
At the Post Office, which is no longer part of the Royal Mail, around 4,000 employees have voted to walk out for a sixth and seventh day since Easter later this month, as they show their anger over 1,500 job cuts and the increasing involvement of outside businesses in running branches.
EDF has offered the 2 per cent rise plus a small cash handout to workers at all of its operations in the UK. The electricity and gas residential supply division, which employs around 4,500, has agreed to the terms. However, that is the loss-making part of EDF's three UK businesses. The two coal plants in Nottinghamshire and eight nuclear sites, including Sizewell B in Suffolk and Heysham 1 in Lancashire, ensured that EDF made a £1.7bn profit in the UK for 2012.
Shop stewards from the three unions are set to meet tomorrow to discuss EDF's proposals. In the past, unions have negotiated pay for the retail, nuclear generation and coal generation businesses separately. However, some sources believe that EDF has made a corporate edict from France that British workers should all receive the same deal as part of a drive to keep a handle on costs.
A source said: "The unions been negotiating for a couple of months, but this is the most difficult I have ever known negotiations at this stage of the game – and we don't think that British managers have the authority to move beyond a 2 per cent offer."
EDF has been in protracted talks with the Government about building a £14bn nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. It would be the first of a new generation of power plants, but the process has been bedevilled by political disagreements over a minimum price guarantee for the electricity it would generate.
An EDF spokesman said: "Confidential pay negotiations are continuing with unions in many parts of our business. Where we have reached agreement, an offer of a 2 per cent increase plus a £200 lump sum was recommended by unions and overwhelmingly accepted by employees through a ballot."
The mobile group O2 could also be hit by strike action as 2,500 call centre workers protest at being transferred to the outsourcing giant Capita.