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From The Socialist newspaper, 24 February 2010

Staythorpe: the fight for workplace safety

Over 500 construction workers at the Staythorpe power station site near Newark in Nottinghamshire took immediate strike action last week, staying out for three days. A serious health and safety breach that could have led to fatalities, sparked the unofficial walkout.

Jon Dale

Two workers were alleged to have removed a scaffolding bar to access pipework. The scaffold could have collapsed. Last summer on the same site a heavy piece of pipe fell from a crane when incorrectly lifted, smashing into a cabin. Although no-one was hurt in either incident, workers are rightly vigilant over any threat to their safety.

Bosses at first denied there had been any problem. During the second day of strike action, they changed their mind about that. One of the two workers was sacked. The GMB union had asked that they both be moved to another site and retrained.

Alstom, the main contractor, has sub-contracted work to companies that are using cheap labour, or inadequately trained workers. Many of these are from overseas - the two workers in this recent incident were Spanish. But although the press recycled photos of flag-waving workers from last year's protests at this site, the situation has changed since then.

In 2009 there was anger that sub-contracting firms were refusing to employ or even interview any local labour.

There is now a higher proportion of UK workers, but still a fear that the employers are trying to undermine the national agreement on terms and conditions.

GMB and Unite stewards recommended a return to work on the third day, after Alstom admitted the breach of safety regulations. About half the workers voted to stay out until they were paid for the days lost, blaming the bosses for forcing them to walk out in the first place.

After a long and stormy meeting outside the site gates, they agreed to return the following day rather than immediately.

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In The Socialist 24 February 2010:

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