Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the disclosure, consideration and approval of proposals for onshore electricity power stations of 50MW or less; to require the application of Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) terms and conditions in certain circumstances; to require sector-specific collective national workforce agreements in other circumstances; and for connected purposes.
Power plants that produce 50 MW or below are not subject to the terms of national planning consent. Instead, these plants, including those that produce energy from waste, are regulated by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This system was supposed to give local people more control over developments in their locality, but it has also created loopholes and cover for unscrupulous employers seeking to undercut and exploit construction workers who work on these plants. That is because the hard-won terms and conditions of the national agreement for the engineering construction industry have not been applied to construction contracts for power stations of 50 MW or less. I raised this issue, and indeed presented this Bill, earlier in 2016, but as my Teesside colleagues who supported me then and support me today—my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Anna Turley), for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) —and the GMB and Unite unions, with which we have worked, know, the problem still exists and has not been dealt with.
Some employers that build these smaller power stations are still using deliberating confusing contracts to employ workers on bogus self-employment terms. Indeed, they are still exploiting migrant workers. Rather than paying local workers the national industry agreement rate for skilled workers of between £16.28 and £16.97 an hour, depending on the competency level involved, they are importing and exploiting migrant workers, paying them between just £8 and £10.
One particularly egregious example is the Croatian company Duro Dakovic TEP. This firm’s model of work is simple: bid for construction subcontracts from companies that refuse to work under the “blue book”, or NAECI terms, and then undercut local wages by bringing over workforces wholesale from Croatia to work at Croatian wage levels. This same firm was exposed by GMB and Unite as underpaying its largely migrant workforce in 2015 when constructing a power station in Yorkshire. That job fell under the NAECI independent audit facility, so Duro Dakovic was made to repay every penny owed to its employees. However, disgracefully, it took the money back from employees under duress once they returned to Croatia. That is exploitation plain and simple, and it demonstrates the disregard that this firm has for all its employees.
Unfortunately, this very firm has since won six further contracts to build energy-from-waste power stations in the UK from the Danish firm Babcock & Wilcox Volund. Unite and the GMB have worked to highlight and tackle this exploitation. Members have organised protests with members of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians outside sites owned by BWV in Teesside, as well as other energy-from-waste power stations in Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland. National officers from Unite and the GMB have travelled as far as Denmark and Croatia to try to educate the appropriate trade unions about this exploitation of their members.
Despite such hard work, any real solution to this problem must come from the House. The exploitation of migrant employees and the undercutting of British workers have happened only because of an unintended loophole in legislation—namely, that the trade union-negotiated NAECI standards do not need to be complied with in construction contracts for power stations producing less than 50 MW. Requiring these NAECI “blue book” standards to be written into contracts with companies constructing power stations of any size on British soil is the only way to prevent that undercutting and to allow workers of all nationalities to bargain collectively to improve their pay and conditions.
Since the vote to leave the European Union, Members from both sides of House have attempted to address the concerns about immigration that are felt in neglected industrial areas across the country. If, as a House and as a nation, we are to address those concerns, we must take action on such loopholes that allow companies to bring in migrant workers on a temporary basis and exploit them, thereby undercutting the wages and conditions of British workers. These pockets of exploitation lead to resentment among all workers from our communities, who are prevented from seeking and achieving meaningful employment. Instead, when they are able to get work on such sites, they work under confusing contracts that class them as self-employed and can sometimes cause them to pay national insurance contributions twice to benefit their employers.
In this case, as in others, our leaving the European Union presents both the threat that we will lose well-intentioned but inadequate EU protections against such practices, which afford migrant employees the host country’s minimum standards, and the opportunity to strengthen protections to ensure compliance with not only minimum standards, but industry standards such as NAECI. We do not need to wait until we have left the EU to do that; we can act now and put a stop to the manipulation of migrant workers and the undermining of hard-fought employment standards in the UK.
This issue can and should be addressed to protect the integrity of hard-fought collective agreements, and the conditions and pay of workers. I therefore make no apology for raising it yet again and for again presenting this Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Tom Blenkinsop, Anna Turley, Sir Kevin Barron, Sarah Champion, John Healey, Andy McDonald, Alex Cunningham and Mr Iain Wright present the Bill.
Tom Blenkinsop accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 131).