Construction workers employed at Hinkley Point have overwhelmingly rejected a pay offer in the longstanding dispute over pay and bonuses on the project.

The unions concerned, Unite and the GMB, will now go ahead with notifying the companies concerned of their intention of holding an industrial action ballot and then progress to ballot members for strike action.

The workers overwhelmingly rejected the proposed pay increase, with over 95 per cent voting against the proposals in a consultative ballot. Members were told that the rejected offer was the best that could be achieved “through negotiations”.

The dispute, which has been ongoing since the spring, concerns the pay of workers engaged on civil engineering contracts at Hinkley Point which is the largest construction project in Europe. There are already over a 1,000 workers employed on these contracts at Hinkley Point.

Negotiations on the pay offer have involved the client EDF and the main contractor BYLOR (the principal contractor Laing O’Rourke and Bouygues TP) as well as the unions.

A ballot for strike action was called off in June after an interim agreement on bonus payments was agreed. The three month agreement was extended into September in the hope that a permanent deal could be made.

One of the principal issues is that the pay rates for workers on civil engineering contracts are significantly below the rates of workers covered by the mechanical and engineering (M&E) contract.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said “Members have made their views clear; the unions warned the amount of money being offered was not sufficient and this has proved to be the case.

“The client and contractors need to understand that this is a high profile, complex project, built in a tightly controlled secure zone, which is being built in an isolated part of the UK. It cannot and will not be built on the cheap.

“For too long the construction industry has treated workers on civil engineering projects as the poor relations and these attitudes are no longer acceptable. The employers have set the benchmark with the mechanical and engineering agreement they need to come forward with an offer that meets our members’ expectations.

“There is a window between now and the commencement of any industrial action to still resolve this dispute, provided the client and the contractors come back with an improved offer. The unions are fully prepared to return to the negotiating table if an improved offer is put forward.”

Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer for construction, said “The ballot result is a clear indication that the national officers of both GMB and Unite have to get back round the table with EDF as matter of urgency.

“We will be seeking meetings with EDF as soon as possible to solve this situation on behalf of our members.”

Unite, the UK’s largest construction union, has begun balloting its members at HTC Wolffkran for strike action in a dispute over pay.

Unite has taken the ‘regrettable’ decision to seek a mandate from its members for strike action after the company refused to hold fresh talks about pay leaving members with no alternative.

If as expected workers vote in favour of strikes they will begin later this summer and are set to create chaos across the industry.

Previous pay talks collapsed when the company refused to increase its pay offer beyond three per cent with a commitment of bringing holidays in line with industry minimums. HTC Wolffkran negotiators also undermined their own position when they stated they would only countenance a two year pay deal, when a one year deal was what had previously been discussed. The company’s final offer was for a three per cent increase and an additional days holiday this year and the same again next year.

The pay offer is a cut in real terms as the retail price index is currently 3.7 per cent and expected to increase. Members are increasingly unhappy that their pay has not recovered in real terms compared to what workers were receiving in 2008.

Workers will begin to receive their ballot papers from Wednesday 19 July and the ballot will close on Monday 4 August.

If strike action goes ahead it will severely affect major contractors and construction projects in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds. High profile projects that will be affected include: the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, Greenwich Peninsula, Elephant and Castle redevelopment, the Midland Metropolitan Hospital and the Sheffield Retail Quarter.

Jerry Swain Unite’s acting national officer for construction said “This strike ballot is taken very much as a last resort and is entirely a result of HTC Wolffkran failing to put forward a pay offer that meets our members’ expectations and its refusal to return to the negotiating table.

“The ball remains in HTC Wolffkran’s court if it wants to avoid strike action it needs to re-open negotiations and table a realistic pay offer.

“Without an improved offer contractors need to brace themselves for major disruption as sites grind to a halt and projects are delayed.”