Unions plan demonstrations over Danish firms' 'undercutting'

A series of demonstrations will take place 12 April over what construction unions claim is undercutting and exploitation of workers by Danish companies working in the UK.

Unite and the GMB said firms involved in the construction of two multimillion pound energy-from-waste projects are paying workers up to 61 per cent below agreed industry rates. Some receive only minimum wage and have to pay for their own accommodation and travel.

The projects are being financed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, the investment arm of Pension Denmark, one of Europe's largest pension funds with €29.8bn under management. According to the unions, the organisation's corporate social responsibility policies, which should apply to the organisation's supply chains at home and abroad, are being flouted.

Representatives from Unite and the GMB will hand a petition containing over 5,000 signatures to the Danish embassy in London calling on the Danish government to launch an inquiry.

There will also be protests at projects in Rotherham in South Yorkshire and Sandwich in Kent, with a further demonstration at the UK offices of one of the contractors, Babcock & Wilcox Volund, in Solihull in the West Midlands.

The unions said B&W Volund, which is building the £165m Rotherham project, subcontracts large portions of the work to a Croatian company, Duro Dakovic, that pays workers as little as the minimum wage of £7.50 per hour. The National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) has a basic rate of £16.97 per hour with an hourly bonus of £2.37 an hour.

They also claim that the principal contractor at the £175m Sandwich project, Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor, does not pay the hourly bonus, industry sick pay, enhanced holiday pay, travel and accommodation allowances or other benefits, and that it refuses to allow union access to the workforce.

Bernard McAulay, Unite national officer for construction, said: "Construction workers are angry that Danish companies are exploiting workers and undercutting pay rates to boost their profits.

"This exploitation cannot be allowed to go unchallenged; it is vital that workers and the general public know what companies are trying to get away with on major projects and ensure their misdeeds are brought to account."

In a statement, BWSC told Builder & Engineer is it committed to being a responsible business and to upholding high ethical standards in its operations and supply chain.

It added that it is company policy that business is conducted in compliance with applicable laws and binding international conventions, and that all subcontract work must contain specific provision that skilled M&E workers, regardless of nationality, are paid in compliance with appropriate rates as set forth in the NAECI. Furthermore, all-inclusive rates paid by BWSC cover entitlements such as transport, travel and accommodation allowance.

"By accepting to work with BWSC, the suppliers undertake and warrant on behalf of themselves, their employees, agents and representatives that in the production of goods delivered to BWSC, and/or in the provision of services to BWSC, they will comply with the terms and conditions, as well as applicable laws and binding international conventions covering labour principles," the company said.

"Furthermore, we have an established third-party audit system in place with KPMG to ensure compliance with these terms and conditions.

"BWSC has had a healthy and open dialogue with numerous UK trade union representatives from Unite and GMB over the recent years, while constructing projects in the UK, and any concerns put forward by the UK trade unions regarding rates of pay, worker welfare, health and safety, etc., have all been dealt with swiftly and it is our understanding that it has been to the satisfaction of the UK trade unions."

Builder & Engineer has contacted B&W Volund for comment.

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