Unite, the UK's largest union, is preparing to ballot over 1000 members in construction firm, Balfour Beatty for industrial action.
The action could hit some of the UK's key infrastructure projects, including power stations and Crossrail.
The strike ballot follows Balfour Beatty's failure to step back from imposed contractual changes which will see thousands of workers' wages cut by one third.
In May this year, Balfour Beatty, along with six other leading construction companies, informed Unite of its intention to withdraw from five long-standing agreements and impose new semi-skilled grades with massive cuts in pay. The attack will hit electricians, plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers working at sites around the country including, Grangemouth, Sellafield and London's Crossrail.
Unite is balloting Balfour Beatty first as it believes the firm is acting as the `ring-leader' of the break-away employers with five firms out of the seven threatening to sack workers who refuse to sign the new and inferior contracts by December 7.
Should they succeed in imposing these inferior contracts, Unite says the companies will usher in a era of de-skilling across the sector. The union has also repeatedly warned that the attacks will bring industrial strife to a sector trying to weather the worst economic climate in decades.
Attempts to break the workforce are seen as further inflammatory and hugely opportunistic given that Balfour Beatty's orders are up six per cent with £15.5bn (£15,500,000,000) worth of projects on its books since last year and the latest interim shareholder dividend is up five per cent. Last year Balfour Beatty posted pre-tax profits of £50,500,000 and Ian Tyler, its Chief Exec received a total pay package of £979,994.
Unite national officer, Bernard McAulay said: "We believe Balfour Beatty is the main aggressor among a group of companies trying to bully their workers into signing away their livelihoods so Unite is therefore balloting them first. We have warned them repeatedly that their greed will bring mayhem to an industry desperately trying to steer a path through the recession, but they refuse to listen.
"The failure of the senior management at Balfour Beatty to withdraw the threats of dismissal has left Unite with no choice than to prepare for an industrial action ballot with Balfour Beatty, the ring-leader of these break-away firms.
"This is a vastly profitable company. It has no need whatsoever to rob its employees in order to satisfy its shareholders. Perhaps the threat of strike action will bring Balfour Beatty to its senses and back to the negotiating table."
At a meeting of Unite shop stewards from the electrical and mechanical sector today (Tuesday 18 October) a unanimous decision was taken to proceed with a ballot in Balfour Beatty.
It follows months of protests by thousands of rank and file construction workers outside sites up and down the country, including Sellafield, Grangemouth and Ratcliffe power stations, Blackfriars and Kings Cross station and Lindsey Oil Refinery.
The timescale for the ballot with Balfour Beatty has yet to be confirmed and the locations of strikes will be decided in due course. The union has also said that the threat of dismissal must be removed before meaningful discussions can take place. The other six companies will be balloted in the next phase of Unite's fight to defend its members.
"Unite is not opposed to change, but change needs to be negotiated not imposed. Unite members have made it clear how angry they are over this attack and made it clear to us that they want to be balloted, so they can defend their skills and pay," added Bernard McAulay.
Unite has been lobbying major clients in the electrical and mechanical sector about the dangers of a new era of industrial unrest where major projects will not be delivered on time or within budget. The agreements that the break-away companies want to withdraw from have delivered industrial peace and stability for 40 years.
Bernard McAulay said: "We has been told by several major clients that they do not support these break-away firms and will not use companies which do not enjoy positive relationships with Unite."