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February 19, 2010

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Unofficial strike over safety concerns at power plant ends

Workers at a power plant in Nottinghamshire have called off an unofficial strike over a safety breach after the company dismissed one of the workers implicated in the offence.

Hundreds of Alstom employees at the power giant’s plant at Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire walked out earlier this week in protest over what they saw as inaction by the company over a serious breach of scaffolding safety.

It had been reported that two workers had interfered with a scaffolding at the site by removing parts of the bottom section of the tower in order to fit a bar. According to GMB regional organiser, Andy Fletcher, this act was “deliberate, but not malicious”. He told SHP: “The two contractors had to remove the bottom of the structure to insert the bar. This is a red-card offence. Alstom subsequently suspended the individuals and provided them with written warnings.

“However, these were then rescinded and the two workers were reinstated and brought back in on a Saturday, when no one else was around.”

More than 300 employees walked out last Tuesday as part of the protest, which was unofficial and not endorsed by the unions. The following day, the HSE visited the site to investigate the allegations and, according to Fletcher, “found conclusive evidence that the scaffold had been tampered with”.

A statement from the company backed this up, saying: “The investigation found that one of our sub-contractor’s employees was potentially at fault and had possibly breached safety procedures.”

The worker, believed to be a Spanish national, was subsequently dismissed by the company. The other employee implicated was found not to be at fault. The GMB, however, felt that that the dismissal was over the top. Said Fletcher: “The union didn’t ask for that. We had requested that they be removed from the site and retrained.”

But the company countered that its procedures are designed to deal with such incidents “promptly and effectively”. It also expressed its dismay at the unofficial walkout before the investigation into the incident had been completed, and said it “does not expect its employees to behave this way in the future” and, instead, to go through officially agreed channels to report any concerns.

All employees have now returned to work.

The Staythorpe plant has been the scene of much unrest recently, with an official GMB strike called off just days before the scaffolding walkout. This action was planned in relation to a dispute over the basis for selection for redundancies at the site. Last month, an Italian sub-contractor working for Alstom was found to have been significantly underpaying its employees, which may, according to the union, have been an attempt to undercut UK labour and circumvent the payment of UK taxes.

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