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Long-Delayed UK Nuclear Project May Face Strike

Monday, April 24, 2017

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Just weeks after the first concrete was poured on the site of the planned Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, in Somerset, England, a labor disagreement is threatening to stop work on the 18 billion-pound ($23 billion) construction job.

Two of the U.K.’s largest unions, GMB and Unite, have planned a vote in early May to gauge whether approximately 700 workers on the site support the idea of striking. At issue is bonus pay: The unions say the consortium behind the project is refusing to pay the bonus rate promised in their agreement related to the project.

Jetty construction at Hinkley Point
Images courtesy of EDP Energy

Construction currently underway at Hinkley Point C includes a jetty and seawall.

Final contracts for the construction of Hinkley Point C were signed in September 2016. The plant, which is the third at the Hinkley Point site, is owned by French state-sponsored energy company EDF, in a partnership with Chinese state-owned company CGN. It is being built by a joint venture between Bouygues Travaux Publics, a French construction and engineering firm, and U.K.-headquartered Laing O’Rourke; the joint venture goes by the name BYLOR.

Hinkley Point C has been in the works for a decade, and is predicted to go online around 2025. The project had first been broached in 2007 as a plan of British Energy, then the largest single provider of electricity in the country. EDF took over the project in 2008, when it bought British Energy, upping its presence in power generation in the U.K. considerably.

Hinkley Point is the site of the now-defunct Hinkley Point A plant, and the still-operational Hinkley Point B. The new plant will include two EPR reactors and will be rated at 3,200 MWe.

Consultative Ballot

According to GMB and Unite, the bonus rate being offered to workers by BYLOR “is insufficient to attract the quality of workers needed to ensure that the civil works phase of the 18 billion-pound project is completed on time.”

The consultative ballot, to be held May 2-5, will allow workers to weigh in on whether an official vote to strike should be held.

Rob Miguel, chair of the Hinkley Point C joint union committee, is pressuring the contractors over the project deadline, in light of delays that have already pushed the completion date back by eight years since the job was first proposed in 2007.

concrete pour

In March, the first concrete for the long-delayed plant was poured.

"The project has already suffered delays and to achieve the 2025 start date for electricity generation a skilled construction workforce is required,” Miguel said. “If the consultative ballot eventually leads to full-scale industrial action ballot, we could be looking at delays to the construction at Hinkley Point, which will be very expensive for the employers as hired-in plant and machinery will be lying idle.”

Years of Delays

Laying the groundwork for the project has taken nearly a decade, and included purchasing the land for the plant, securing numerous permits and establishing agreements on cost and energy pricing. When Hinkley Point C received its nuclear license in 2012, it was the first new nuclear plant given permission to operate in the U.K. since 1987.

In 2016, the project was temporarily halted by the government of then-incoming Prime Minister Theresa May, who expressed concerns about the role of a Chinese state-owned company in a project that involves U.K. national security. In September, though, the prime minister approved the project.

In March, the first concrete for the plant itself was poured, and construction on a seawall and jetty that will be part of the complex was also underway.

Finding an Agreement

“[Our] members came to Hinkley Point under the belief that they would receive excellent pay and bonuses,” Unite regional officer Tim Morris said. “The employers think they can do this ‘on the cheap’ by offering a derisory bonus rate, but the workers consider it to be completely inadequate to attract and hold onto the skilled workforce necessary.”

For its part, EDF told The Telegraph that it hopes to reach an agreement with the unions.

“We have a strong partnership in place with the trade unions based on a set of landmark agreements that include pay and productivity,” a company spokesman told the newspaper. “We share a commitment with them and our contract partners to provide high quality employment standards, alongside the best standard in health, safety, quality and productivity.”

   

Tagged categories: Contractors; Europe; Labor; Nuclear Power Plants; Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Unions

Comment from John Fauth, (4/24/2017, 8:39 AM)

The disagreement hinges on contractual bonus pay vs. actual bonus pay. Neither of those facts are mentioned in this article which in turn is something less than informative.


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