Page 1

Prospect members in energy and decommissioning

ENERGYEYE • Issue 2, June 2013

Abuse of the Feed-In Tariff was highlighted at this year’s energy supply industry sector conference in London CARRIED

ROGUE generators are misusing a loophole in renewable energy policy and getting paid to dump surplus energy. The problem was highlighted by conference delegate Bill Halliwell (Electricity North West). Moving the first motion of the day he said Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) were introduced to provide greater incentives to boost small-scale renewable energy generation. Unlike historic tariffs, which only paid out for units actually exported back to the grid, FITs reward generators for units generated as well as exported, therefore offering potentially huge financial rewards, particularly for generators producing less than 500 kilowatts (kw). In broad terms the initiative has been an overwhelming success, with an incredible 1,700 megawatts connected to the grid in the 30 months since its introduction – equal to 20 per cent of the combined output from the UK’s nine operating nuclear power stations. But, Halliwell said, a well-known company which markets itself on its green credentials installed a 300kw photovoltaic array at its HQ to maximise income by selling off energy generated at the weekend when the building is closed. The excess energy amounts to 290kw but the network can only accommodate 140kw without extensive and expensive reinforcements. Rather than choose a smaller installation the customer installed the 300kw PV array and obtained a licence to export 140kw, leaving a surplus of 150kw – enough to supply 100 domestic premises. Halliwell said that while the FIT system pays for generation and supply, the price for exported units is only a fraction of the that for generated units.


Act now to stop waste ■■ Halliwell – profiteering is unethical

■■ Mannion – voiced support, but with a caveat


PROSPECT has warned that Northern Ireland will be affected by the UK’s proposals for electricity market reform, despite its devolved status. In a submission to the Competition Commission, the union said the framework drawn up by Northern Ireland’s utility regulator should be flexible enough to encourage investment in new and upgraded infrastructure in the region.

not impact on households making legitimate use of FIT. David Simpson (above right), supported the motion for the sector executive, but with reservations. “I have a client who is installing a 700kw wind generator, but it will be rated and certified at 500kw because a 500kw wind turbine qualifies for a FIT rate of 18.04p per kw while a 700kw turbine only receives for 9.79p per kw.” In this case the customer is exploring ways to use the energy to heat the local community pool, a process that might otherwise be reliant on fossil fuels. He said: “We condemn waste and will speak out against it, but we must be careful not to frame our arguments in such a way that we oppose sensible innovation.”

It would be unrealistic to expect labour costs to be maintained at or below inflation, given the growing demand for skilled power engineers, as salaries are already out of step with the rest of the energy sector, says Prospect. Prospect also opposes plans by the regulator to reduce the cost of early retirement pension benefits. View it at id/2013/00840 (More on pensions on page 5).

Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013

Conference pictures: Stefano Cagnoni

The customer was exploiting a loophole that allows it to generate at its maximum output, dump the excess energy into a load bank, and still legally claim both tariffs for generation and export. “Effectively it has created a huge heater at the back of its building discharging 150kw into the atmosphere at weekends, which is subsidised by the public,” said Halliwell. While he suspected the practice was not widespread, action was needed to stop it. “Ofgem may argue that it is not worth the time and trouble to plug the loophole but I say such profiteering is unethical, downright immoral and should be stopped.” Dean Mannion (International Power) voiced support but with the caveat that any action should



HP SOURCE Parmjit Dhanda

Parliamentary, media and campaigns officer



The more members we have – the stronger our voice. Ask your colleagues to join us at or call 020 7902 6600 for more details.


Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013

THE Energy Bill has gone through many layers of scrutiny, but some insurmountable differences appear to remain. Thus far there has been examination via evidence sessions with interested stakeholders (including unions), followed by debate on the floor of the House of Commons and then several weeks of line-by-line scrutiny by an appointed committee of MPs. One thing hasn’t changed. All government amendments have been adopted and none of the non-government amendments have been adopted. ‘The bill is now to get further scrutiny in the House of Lords – a body that is far more difficult to ‘whip’ along party lines’ The bones of contention at the outset have remained throughout the passage of this bill, and are likely to do so to the end. Two that stand out for Prospect are the issues around setting a decarbonisation target and the need for a ‘strike price’ for nuclear-generated power. The opposition has pressed for a legally binding decarbonisation target for the year 2030. EDF and others have been supportive of this too, because it puts the onus on the government to back low carbon technologies as it looks to replace a fifth of electricity capacity over the next decade. The government’s own amendments on this only commit to set a carbon target for 2030 a year after the next general election. At the time of writing, the government is still negotiating with EDF to set a guaranteed price for nuclear generation. The debate around this has been focused on the need to get on and forge an agreement quickly, to restore confidence and to kick-start the new nuclear generation Prospect is pushing for. Much of the bill has been consensual. There was agreement on the principle of encouraging local community energy schemes and raising the small feed-in-tariff. There was broad agreement about the benefits of biomass generation as long as forests are sustainably managed. However government whips are likely to face slightly stiffer political challenges among the independently-minded Lords in the coming weeks.

Hinkley C job cuts PROSPECT HAS called on all parties involved in negotiations on setting a strike price for electricity generated by the first planned new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, to redouble their efforts and secure an agreement. The comments follow an announcement from EDF that it plans to scale back on preparatory project work and reduce the number of people engaged in its New Nuclear Build business in a bid to control costs. A statement from the company said it was looking to refocus its activities at Hinkley Point C to reflect “its priorities ahead of securing the financing necessary for the project.” No figure has been released 0n the number of jobs affected, but it is expected to have a “significant” impact on the 800 contractors and EDF employees within the NNB business. National secretary Alan Leighton said: “The fear among members is that any delay in the preparatory work could impede or inhibit EDF’s ability to bring the project to fruition once agreement has been reached. ”We hope that the announcement encourages all involved in the talks to redouble their efforts to agree a strike price. Particularly as it comes so soon after the warning from outgoing Ofgem head, Alistair Buchanan, that we are facing

an imminent capacity crunch in the UK unless urgent action is taken.” Meanwhile Leighton said comments purporting to be from an industry insider claiming that EDF’s threat to lay off staff was just “sabre-rattling”, were incorrect and unhelpful. A story posted by Platts, an energy industry newswire, quoted the unnamed source as saying it was an empty threat designed to influence the strike price negotiations. The source claimed no redundancy consultations had taken place during the 30-day window of opportunity, describing it instead as evidence of posturing by all parties involved in the talks. But, Leighton said, this was incorrect and potentially damaging to the negotiations. Prospect has been fully involved in talks over a new structure for NNB and the formal consultations will begin shortly.


PROSPECT has signed a landmark agreement with EDF covering industrial relations arrangements for the construction of the Hinkley C plant. It is the first time the union has been recognised in the construction sector and is a key new recruitment area. Prospect will represent supervisory grades covering between 400-500 staff.

Published by Prospect, New Prospect House, 8 Leake Street, London SE1 7NN EnergyEye editor: Katherine Beirne e t 020 7902 6625 Printed by: College Hill Press


Our survey says… Prospect’s health and safety officer Sarah Page reveals the findings of the union’s survey into Powering Improvement, the electricity industry’s drive to improve safety

■■ Page – lack of time hampering health and safety reps

Reps also reported being hindered by management perceptions and behaviours

is a priority throughout Powering Improvement, we used the survey to measure the extent to which Prospect safety reps are involved. We asked about consultation, training, committee work and the extent to which our reps are making inspections and investigating accidents or complaints. It was gratifying to find that reps are mostly engaged in what their role is primarily about, ie representing. Levels of engagement in dialogue were also positive, with reps being consulted and involved in health and safety committee meetings. However the survey suggests that the capacity to be active as an ‘operational rep’, investigating incidents and inspecting workplaces, is less; and it was plain from the feedback that the number one factor hampering this is time – or rather, a lack of it. Reps also reported being hindered by management perceptions and behaviours, for instance regarding health and safety as a cost more than a benefit and failing in their responsibilities to involve or inform to the extent that reps are denied opportunities to fulfil their statutory functions. However the upside was reports of good company support, practices and culture along with enthusiastic peer support within Prospect. ■■ The survey report is available on-line at: id/2013/00818


Good home wanted THE textbooks of a former Central Electricity Generating Board employee are looking for a good home. Alan Gosling, who retired a few years after the closure of Ooker Hill in Tipton, Staffordshire, passed away in December 2011 and his widow is offering: ●● Boiler House Practice by J N Williams (3rd edition, 1960) ●● Thermodynamics of Heat Power, Virgil Morning Faires (USA 1958) ●● Water Tube Boilers and their Integral Superheaters (BS 1113 1943) ●● Turbine Lubrication by C C Wakefield and Co Ltd (1955) ●● Power Station Plant Details, Midland Region CEGB. Anyone interested should write directly to Mrs N Gosling, 93 Redhouse Road, Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, WV6 8XQ.

Hot-dogs and cosy-cats OVER half of pet owners turn up the heating for their cat or dog when they go out with men more likely than women to leave the heating on for their pets. Those were some of the findings from a survey conducted by E.ON which also showed that Radio 1 is the station of choice for owners who leave the radio on to prevent their pets getting lonely. The poll of nearly 5,000 adults revealed that 45 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men keep the heating on for their dog, while the breakdown for cat owners is split between 34 per cent women and 45 per cent men.

Fat chance FAT, oil and build-ups in drains will soon be powering the world’s biggest fat-fuelled power station in Britain, in a “win-win solution” that also tackles the on-going problem of ‘fatbergs’ in sewers. The power station at Beckton in east London, which should be operational by the first quarter of 2015, is set to produce 130 Gigawatt hours (GWh) a year – enough to run 39,000 average-sized homes.

Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013

IT IS now half way through Powering Improvement’s penultimate year and while encouraged by the growing number of collaborative initiatives in some participating companies, Prospect still has concerns at the extent to which others have embraced this important campaign. I suspect weaknesses in translation by line management of the original chief executive officer’s commitments to front line impact and visibility. So, while there is clear high-level evidence of the diverse activity of company SHE (safety, health and environment) managers, reports from reps and members suggest their line management is less ‘on message’. This is not helped by the companies’ reluctance to badge health and safety with Powering Improvement. When the Energy Networks Association (ENA) surveyed awareness earlier this year, their 125 responses found a third had heard of Powering Improvement with a quarter knowing how their company was implementing it. Prospect wanted to measure our communications campaign with an ESI safety rep survey, which elicited a respectable 29 per cent response. Many thanks to those of you who took part! We are encouraged by the 59 per cent of you who knew about the campaign and that 82 per cent had learnt of it exclusively from Prospect. Given that worker involvement





THE industry is at a pivotal stage and faces formidable industrial and political challenges over the coming months, deputy general secretary Garry Graham told delegates as he opened the 2013 Energy Supply Industry sector conference. Prospect has campaigned for years for an appropriate energy mix for the UK. “We’ve lobbied for the need for investment in generation, transmission, distribution and infrastructure. We’ve emphasised the need for skills to renew the workforce in the face of significant changes. “Now our voice is being heard on all these issues. For some of us there is a frustration that this has come so late. Prospect predicted the challenges that we face across the energy sector over 10 years ago.” Noting the passage of the Energy Bill, Graham said the real test will come beyond the legislative hurdles. “It will be about breathing life into the proposals to allow the necessary investment to take place.” But he said the immediate concern is over the repeated delays in agreeing a strike price for the first new nuclear plant.

Nuclear build CARRIED

AN emergency motion focused on the protracted delays in setting a ‘strike price’ to encourage investment in new nuclear build. Moving on behalf of the Sector Executive Committee (SEC) Craig Marshall said further delays will make it increasingly difficult to retain highly trained staff, recruit new staff and maintain the project. The motion was carried. EM2

Reform – the industry view

“Putting customers and communities first is the start and endpoint of everything we do,” Dr Tony Cocker, chief executive of E.ON UK told delegates as he outlined what electricity market reform will mean for energy suppliers

Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013

THE REFORMS represented a challenge but also a great opportunity, said Cocker. Decisions connected to the Feed-In Tariff programme will not only impact on generations to come but require massive investment in new infrastructure. But first it was vital to establish how customers will get value from any investment; ensure new investment is allocated fairly across customer groups; and that companies are more ■■ Cocker – work transparent about costs so hard to try and customers understand the explain facts. Contracts for Difference (CfD) would provide value for money if the broad framework behind its implementation is correct, as would capacity contracts, said Cocker. Customers would be guaranteed security of supply by mitigating against price spikes while generators “will not be reliant on short days of high prices to give them a return on their investment.” But, he said, within E.ON there are concerns that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is over-complicating the design of the capacity market auctions. Cocker also called for the date of the first auction to be brought forward to 2014 with a start date of 2016 to enable companies to de-mothball plant. While not part of the Energy Bill the introduction of a carbon floor price is within the market reform package and therefore another challenge, but one that Cocker felt should be scrapped. Describing it as a tax for the exchequer that will encourage energy imports, Cocker said there are now other tools to encourage investment in low carbon generation. If the carbon floor price is

not scrapped, the funds raised should be used for energy efficiency measures. He was similarly disparaging about carbon intensity targets because adopting CfDs and capacity contracts “will give government the tools to steer the carbon intensity of the generation mix in the UK…. They should focus on European carbon targets instead.” While E.ON is already leading the field in the roll-out of SMART meters, Cocker said a deferral of the roll-out target would be a pragmatic decision and would help reduce costs. Funding the new Energy Companies Obligation (ECO), which mandate energy suppliers to provide energy efficiency measures, will form a substantial portion of customers’ bills over the next few years. “It will give value to some customers but we question whether the design of the scheme will ensure improvements in energy efficiencies are as cost effective as possible. This is because DECC assumes that customers will contribute towards the cost of the improvements but in reality, cash-strapped councils are unwilling to do so. “Broadly speaking it’s the right thing to do but the design of the scheme must be cost effective. “ECO means people who use more energy are paying for efficiency [measures] but it is still a regressive option,” adding that a system based on charging per unit, rather than per customer, is based not on ability to pay but on the need to keep the house warm. Finally, referring to the negative press energy companies have received recently, Cocker said more transparency would help customers understand what their bills pay for and what is needed for new infrastructure. “We need to work hard to try and explain, to unpick the bills, and explain our costs and our profits.”



Attacks on pensions need a united defence Representatives at the ESI sector conference emphasised the need for unity among all workers in the industry to protect and improve pension entitlements IN A presentation to delegates before the debate on pensions, Prospect’s pension officer, Neil Walsh, gave an outline of the arrangements that apply in the industry today as well as the main challenges facing members in in the future. He said the pensions offered by employers have become increasingly disparate as the shape of the industry evolves and companies review what they offer. Since privatisation the situation has changed from the majority of workers having very similar pension arrangements to one where members are covered by dozens of varying schemes. A general trend, with some notable exceptions, has been to close final salary pension schemes to new entrants and offer defined contribution schemes instead. Final salary schemes place fewer risks on members and usually involve higher employer contributions than defined contribution schemes. Walsh said in recent years Prospect has been in the position of reacting to threats to limit or reduce final salary pension provision while also seeking to put improvements to defined contribution schemes on the agenda. Representatives at the ESI conference endorsed this twin approach. However he stressed that it was younger members of defined contribution schemes who faced the greatest challenges in providing for their retirement – but this group is the least engaged with the issue. Outlining how few defined contribution scheme members are involved at section or branch level, or pushing for concerns related to their pension to be raised with employers, Walsh said the challenge for Prospect reps is to educate younger colleagues in order to build momentum to campaign for improvements.

State pension reform

■■ Walsh – the challenge for Prospect reps ■ is to educate younger colleagues

Government proposals to reform state pension benefits threatened to make the position for members of defined contribution schemes even worse, he warned. While the question of whether the reforms would include a limited override to the Protected Persons Regulations has dominated responses to date, he told delegates it was

DELEGATES THEN debated the motion on pensions. Mover Neil Freeman, (UK Power Networks), reminded delegates that past pension protections had been given to workers in the industry not because they asked for them but because the unions fought for them. “The reason we have protected person status isn’t because they liked the look of us, but they wanted the bill to go through and we keep the lights on,” he said. Members will have to face any future threats to pension provision in a similar manner as well as organising to improve defined contribution schemes in the industry. The motion was carried.


Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013


DELEGATES backed a call for Prospect to lobby the Scottish Government to secure new nuclear build within Scotland. Glenn McIntosh (EDF Energy) warned that without it Scotland risks losing technical expertise. Adding the SEC ‘s support Garry Graham outlined the lobbying work done to date and said the union has been seeking engagement with the Scottish Government and will continue to do so, although he noted the challenging climate particularly “this side of the referendum.” He said it had been a frustration that some stakeholders persist in being informed by “an ideological viewpoint rather than science and facts.”



Scotland nuclear lobby

important to remember that final salary scheme members, as a group, would be no worse off as a result of the reforms. But defined contribution members would almost certainly see a reduction in their state pension entitlement. This is because under the current system they can accrue up to £270 per week in state pension benefits. While any pension already built up will be protected, the general level of benefit for such members who work entirely under the new system will only be £144 per week. The state pension age will be higher for younger members as well. Delegates also discussed Ofgem’s pension principles and whether these might incentivise regulated companies to cut pension provision. National Grid is attempting to make a case that pension rights will have to be cut back as a result of Ofgem’s approach and rising pension costs. Conference delegates recognised that it was important to stand alongside Prospect members in National Grid as similar issues could easily arise in other regulated companies under future price control reviews.



Tomorrow’s talent – new drives to boost skills Creative initiatives to encourage the next generation of employees into the industry were highlighted by the chief executive of Energy and Utility Skills Council, Neil Robertson

“The quality of what is coming out of the colleges is patchy and there have been scandals about employers ripping off young people and not providing proper jobs. Most of those [examples] are not true of this sector but have damaged the view of apprenticeships and skills development.” Explaining that government policy will be more focused on workplace learning opportunities, Robertson said: “In a world where employers will have control of the funding, the voice of the learner is all the more important. Unions could champion the voice of the learner. “As an industry we are terrible at utilising labour in a dynamic way, terrible about supporting our supervisors and first line managers… Even an industry like hospitality, which does very little to train staff, train their first line managers. “On average, across the UK, 49 per cent of supervisors or first line managers are trained. But only 41 per cent are trained in our sector and then the careers or opportunities for progression from apprenticeships to middle management don’t exist.

CONFERENCE backed a call to improve diversity in the industry, encourage branches to elect an equality rep and ensure equality issues are on the bargaining agenda. Moving the motion Sue Stelfox, (Electricity North West) said it was important to pay attention to equality issues because “it is a waste if people don’t fulfil their true potential, not to mention the injustice that is then created.”



Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013

Equality drive backed

‘We need to grow our own managers because it’s right’

“But we need to grow our own managers because it’s right, and pragmatically we’re not attracting the crème of the engineering graduates. They go into the city or other sectors. So lets grow our own.” Finally Robertson called for more intelligent procurement. “Transport for London scored contractors on how much training they did and then mandated those contractors to recruit apprentices and even told them what postcodes they had to recruit from. “That way they could drive recruitment in local communities, ensure diversity and incentivise the contractors to do more.” He pointed out that contractors do less training then they should because it’s not in their interest if they think someone will headhunt their staff.


A call to recruit more members under 30 got overwhelming backing from delegates. Mover Vicki Booth (E.ON) welcomed the NEC’s launch of the young rep challenge – a campaign to ensure that at least one member under the age of 30 sits on the local committee of each branch by National Conference in May next year. Describing the position in E.ON, Booth said out of nearly 4,000 members, 144 are under the age of 30. “Given the potential membership that figure could be a lot higher. My branch is fairly representative of many across the union.” She said she only joined the union after being encouraged by an older colleague and became active “because a rep I knew asked me to help out. Sometimes it can be as simple as having a conversation.” EM1


DESCRIBING THE current position as a “ticking time bomb of demography” Robertson said it was vital for the industry to attract new blood. “It’s an exciting sector, the whole of society crumbles when there is no power, and it’s just wrong that we’re not attracting the talent that we need to.” Key to this is encouraging more women. “It is difficult to find another example of such a non-diverse workforce.” More should be done to provide opportunities for unemployed youths, he added. One drive being promoted by his organisation is a talent bank, whereby the skills group employs apprentices, which it then charges back to the companies who, for reasons such as recruitment freezes, cannot recruit or offer apprenticeships themselves. The talent bank has already generated 100 jobs and the group is bidding for an additional £55m to create a further 11,000 jobs. Other initiatives include creating a central record of competencies, which would help monitor refresher training, drive up team and individual competencies and help insurance companies gauge risk. Robertson said unions should have a key role in championing the voice of the learner and working with government and asset owners to develop recruitment materials for use in schools, colleges and universities.


Zero tolerance to unsafe working

Support for health and safety

A call to halt the erosion of employment and health and safety regulation was backed by conference. Mover Phil Back, (EDF Energy) said the different attitudes to health and safety are already evident within his workplace, Hinkley Point C. Staff with a construction background are more reluctant to report incidents for fear of ridicule or reprisal – an attitude the nuclear industry eradicated 10 years ago, he said. “We want every employee to go home without harm. When we last built a nuclear power station in the UK – Sizewell B – nine people were killed and that was seen as good at the time.” Supporting on behalf of the SEC, negotiator Mike Macdonald said reforms such as those recommended in the Beecroft and Lofstedt reports meant: “We are being driven down a path where the HSE just enforces, but we believe the HSE has a dual role, because prevention is better than punishment.”


■■ Earl – risk averse approach to health and safety analysis revealed that little or no risk assessment had been a contributory factor in 70 per cent of incidents ●● safety champions to get the message across to managers that they should congratulate people for managing health and safety to a high standard ●● £1.9m investment in new personal protective equipment after establishing that the existing PPE was “woefully inadequate” against archflash. But behind it all was a zero tolerance attitude to unsafe acts and conditions and the understanding that staff will be held accountable for their actions. Of the 82 incidents within the company over the last two years, half were investigated formally with 65 per cent of those resulting in a caution or some form of disciplinary action including two dismissals because “the individuals chose not to follow the instructions they were given.”


IMPROVEMENTS IN safety can only be achieved through practical measures and a zero tolerance to unsafe working. That was the message from Geoff Earl, head of safety, health and the environment at Northern Powergrid. In a presentation outlining the company’s approach to meeting the aims of the Powering Improvement safety campaign, Earl said it was important because “workers are still dying and being seriously injured. “Despite all the industry’s efforts we are repeating the same problems, because we are not seeing new ways of killing people.” While praising national HESAC (the health and safety advisory committee for the electricity industry) he said there was not enough information sharing across the industry. One of the actions adopted by Northern Powergrid has been to shorten the time between refresher and competence training. In addition, each employee is audited at least once a year to ensure they are using best practice. “Fundamentally we take a pretty risk averse approach to health and safety and we try to make sure every employee in the organisation is the company’s chief risk officer. But the headline is that while incident rates have come down things are still happening.” And he said they were not ashamed to copy good ideas, highlighting how they have adopted UK Power Networks’ safety reps charter in an attempt to give safety reps the encouragement and space to perform their roles. Other measures included: ●● bespoke joint training – to instruct managers, reps and supervisors on the practical aspects of managing behaviour ●● quality surveys to increase risk assessment –


Opinions divided on differing subscription rates

■■ Mannion

■■ Taylor

■■ Graham

branches, a position echoed by several other speakers. On behalf of the SEC Garry Graham said: “There is a process of convergence although I understand people’s frustration. The NEC needs to

consider the next stage.” He said financial modelling undertaken by the union showed that an immediate reduction would wipe £380,000 from the union’s accounts which, given that forecasts are already predicting a deficit, would not be feasible. ”To take that sort of drop would equate to losing between seven and 10 negotiations officers from the union when what members want when they find themselves in difficult circumstances is unparalleled support.” Delegates voted for remission.

Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013

DIFFERENT SUBSCRIPTION rates across some areas of REMITTED the sector were highlighted in a motion calling for a reduction in the cap for International Power members. Calling for delegates’ support, mover Dean Mannion, (International Power) acknowledged the historic reasons behind the disparity but said it was discrimination and must be addressed now. While sympathetic, Darryl Taylor (National Grid) called for remission to allow the SEC to look at the issue and take a consistent approach across all




Drawing strength from Europe It has taken over three years for Prospect to succeed in getting two reps onto a company’s European Works Council (EWC) . Negotiator Tony Hammond explains why IN MAY Paul Davies from First Hydro and John Kilkie from Rugeley Power Station were elected as Prospect’s first representatives on the GDF Suez European Works Council. Paul has since won a second election and become the EWC secretariat for the UK. However, the elections were far from straight forward – it has taken a big effort to get to this point. In late 2009 I was told that union members within GDF on the continent were trying to make contact. We got in touch with Bob Van Passen, the EWC trade union secretariat in Brussels, and were startled to hear that GDF Suez was in talks to buy International Power and that questions were being asked about our involvement. Despite working closely with the EWC in Europe, GDF, along with some of the industrial unions in the UK, were unhappy about the pan-company organisation – and even some Prospect reps did not see the need to be involved internationally. But we recognised that agreements secured by unions in other countries, where the employment regulations are not as restrictive, would help us provide better protection in the UK. By working closely with the EWC we could push for the same or similar protections to be put in place in GDF UK.

Building bridges IN 2010 GDF bought a 77 per cent stake in International Power with an agreement to complete the purchase by 2012. Soon after the sale the first changes were announced, including the closure of the GDF’s regional office at Swindon and its trading house in North Wales. The company intended to relocate most staff, with some redundancies. I approached the EWC and asked if it would raise questions on our behalf as it had recently signed a no enforced redundancy and relocation agreement with GDF in Europe. A meeting of the EWC secretariat and UK unions in GDF was arranged which kick-started meaningful negotiations with GDF senior management. These resulted in all redundancies being achieved by voluntary agreement, with protection levels previously enjoyed under the old National Grid arrangements or on enhanced terms agreed with Prospect. Having EWC representation is also providing Prospect with more recruitment opportunities, as EWC agreements allow us to visit non-unionised sites.

Bad relations

Prospect • EnergyEye – June 2013

As the relationship between the EWC and Prospect continued to grow, senior staff within GDF tried to ignore the greater employment provisions which belonging to the council afforded us. In 2012, the company threatened to call the police to have Prospect staff ejected from a site, despite a EWC agreement on union access for recruitment.

Recognition challenges In 2013, management at one UK site ditched the traditional pay negotiations and side stepped the unions’ officers, saying union assistance could be called for if difficulties evolved.

■■ Rep Paul Davies (left) and Bob Van Passen, EWC trade union secretariat in Brussels, at a council meeting in Paris

‘GDF Suez is proposing to split the EWC into two sections – energy and environmental services’

Also, this year marked the start of the nomination process for EWC elections. Prospect identified Paul and John to be nominated and was waiting on instructions from GDF over how to proceed. But the company held back information on the process, even after the forms had been sent to the HR department for ratification. After much chasing GDF finally delivered, but with less than eight hours to go before the deadline.

Recognition challenges Following Paul and John’s unopposed election I recieved a email challenging the result from an individual claiming to be a Unite candidate. In fact he turned out to be the son of a company CEO and Unite denied he had ever been nominated. With the other UK unions we challenged the company’s behaviour but, perhaps not surprisingly, GDF refused to recognise a joint union group. Management also wrote to the unions within GDF’s environmental division saying that they intended to reorganise the bargaining group and wanted to re-run the EWC nominations offering positions to employees who were not in a union. Unite issued a central arbitration committee complaint and I contacted the EWC secretariat stating that the company was acting outside the EWC agreement. I demanded that they stop any further elections. Supported largely by unions in France and Belgium, we were successful. But even now the story isn’t finished. Today GDF is still proposing to split the EWC arrangements into two sections – energy and environmental services – and give seats to groups who are not part of a union. Clearly the fight continues but hopefully now with a European dimension. ■■ Prospect has identified 27 EWCs or ■ framework agreements in companies where there are significant numbers of members, as well as other European forums to which reps contribute. To assist reps wanting to engage with European colleagues the union is looking to develop a range of guides, tools and other information sources. More information will be available soon.

EnergyEye June 2013  

For Prospect members in energy and decommissioning