Along with the ongoing protests against the Policing Bill, the past month has seen another, less high-profile struggle playing out across the UK, as electricians and other construction workers have mounted a campaign against employers trying to de-skill their trade. The dispute started after an attempt to introduce a new grade of ESO, which stands for “Electrical Support Operative”, but which electricians have joked could stand for “electrical safety optional”, as it would see under-qualified workers who’ve just completed a short training course carrying out vital electrical work that would otherwise be carried out by either a fully-trained electrician, or an apprentice on a proper training course leading to a full qualification.
Terrifyingly, the test site chosen for the introduction of this new grade was Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, as EDF Energy and construction contractors Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey seem not to be worried about the potential consequences of cutting corners by getting unqualified staff to help build a nuclear reactor. One worker commented “With what’s happening here, you could have a disaster happening on a nuclear power station. We can’t have that, we cannot have these accidents happening due to people not being trained properly. We saw what happened with Grenfell, we can’t allow this to happen again.”
In response to pressure from rank and file construction workers, EDF Energy initially announced that plans for the new grade would be paused, but they’re now said to be trying to introduce a new “Hinkley Support Operative” — a transparent rebranding of the same plan.The dispute has already seen weeks of regular actions by “sparks” (electricians) and other workers targeting sites linked to EDF, Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey across locations including London, Swansea, Cardiff, Newcastle, Manchester, and Merseyside. On the morning Wednesday March 31st, the action escalated further, as the South-West rank and file blocked the road leading to Hinkley Point as buses were bringing workers in
Speaking at the blockade, one worker announced: “We just want to put a message out to Balfour and Bailey’s that unless the ESO grade is taken off the table completely, we will continue these demonstrations in all major cities in the UK.” Another added: “If it isn’t completely taken off the table and replaced with NVQ Level 3 apprenticeships, we’ll be back down here… This is us with just a few men, wait till we have hundreds coming down here. I don’t think they’re gonna like the outcome. Join us on the picket lines, join us at the protests, we need your support, let’s do this!”
You can follow the dispute with Reel News on youtube, DaveBlacklist or JIBElectrician on twitter, or with groups including the Blacklist Support Group and National Construction Rank & File on facebook.
~ Cautiously Pessimistic