pounds 350 a day electricians strike for pay rise

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A WILDCAT walkout tomorrow by electricians earning up to pounds 1,800 a week is expected to disrupt work at some of the most prestigious construction sites in Britain including the Royal Opera House, the Millennium Dome and the Jubilee Line extension.

The 1,500 electricians are protesting over a deal negotiated by the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union which, according to officials, would yield nearly 20 per cent extra on basic rates over two years.

Leaders of the unofficial stoppage say that they receive no pension benefits and that skilled construction workers need to earn big money in boom times to make up for any long periods of recession.

They also say that the basic wage increase is at the expense of travel allowances and weekend overtime rates.

Perhaps the most vulnerable project to any wildcat strikes is the delayed Jubilee Line extension from central London to the Millennium Dome. London Underground is hoping to open services today on the stretch between Bermondsey and Waterloo, leaving the part between Westminster and Green Park to be opened in "late autumn".

Stoppages by the electricians could postpone the link, which is vital to the success of the Millennium Dome.

The news is embarrassing to Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the union, who has called for both sides of industry to agree deals to ensure a "strike-free Britain". As Sir Ken was making his clarion call at the annual TUC conference in Brighton last week, more than 430 AEEU toolmakers at Ford's Dagenham plant walked out in a protest over bonuses. It is understood that the union may make the dispute official.

The leaders of tomorrow's action by electricians expect colleagues elsewhere in the United Kingdom to walk out as well. Official union sources believe, however, that the industrial action will largely be confined to workers at the opera house and the dome who earn up to pounds 1,200 a week, and others working on the Jubilee Line who receive nearly pounds 1,800. The Jubilee Line workers won a number of concessions last year after a series of stoppages that delayed the project.

Under the deal being negotiated by the AEEU, basic rates nationally would rise from pounds 7.42 to pounds 8.92 by the year 2001, but electricians on prestigious sites in London are paid much more.

Sources at the union contend that the demands made by the London electricians are unrealistic, in particular their call for every fourth week off on full pay.

A senior union official said that the proposed pay in- crease constituted a draft deal and would go out to ballot among the 25,000 electricians employed by 2,000 member companies of the Electrical Contracting Association.

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