Eight of the industry’s biggest players are planning to quit the JIB agreement next March.
The move has sparked a series of protests by rank-and-file electricians who fear the move will cut pay rates and lead to a “de-skilling” of the industry.
But the contractors have fiercely denied the accusations and are now warning about potential job cuts if their new deal – known as BESNA – does not become the new industry standard.
The contractors said change is necessary to remain competitive and to improve productivity so they can meet the current challenges in construction and safeguard the jobs of current employees.
The proposed BESNA agreement was drawn up by the employers’ trade body the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association and is designed to harmonise pay and terms and conditions for workers employed by: NG Bailey, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, T Clarke, Crown House Technologies, Gratte Brothers, MJN Colston, Shepherd Engineering Services and SPIE Matthew Hall.
The eight believe new terms and conditions are vital if the industry is to remain competitive and able to continue directly employing skilled workers. The alternative is fewer directly employed operatives.
HVCA chief executive Blane Judd said: “There will be no redundancies as a direct result of this agreement.
“Every worker is being offered the new terms and their job will continue to exist whether they sign the agreement or not.
“However, if they choose not to sign then someone else will be directly employed in that position under the new terms.”
He explained that the BESNA was designed to modernise the profile of the sector’s workforce and make it more flexible, multi-skilled and integrated.
He said “our door is always open” to Unite for further negotiations, but added that threats of industrial action were not helping.
Judd added: “There is absolutely nothing in the agreement about cutting workers’ pay or replacing skilled staff with semi-skilled workers.
“In fact, the BESNA is designed to encourage a multi-skilled and integrated workforce capable of delivering the more sophisticated projects now expected of the M&E sector in the modern era.
“We started discussions with Unite in March and commenced formal negotiations in April, but Unite walked out of negotiations at the beginning of the second meeting.
“There is nothing threatening here – quite the opposite – and we are more than happy to clear up the confused messages and misunderstandings that have appeared over the past fortnight.”