Strike action at Ainscough, the UK’s largest mobile crane rental company, has caused a near total shutdown of operations with fewer than 10 of the company’s 500 cranes leaving its 30 depots, according to union Unite.

Unite, the country’s biggest union, which said it represents 500 crane operators and support staff members, said that pickets were out in force at the company’s depots on 1 February in an ongoing pay dispute.

Unite said its members voted for strike action with 90 % voting in favour on an 83 % turnout to reject what the union described as the company’s “pitiful” pay offer. Unite members last week rejected the company’s revised two-year pay deal offer of 2.5 % this year and 2.75 % in 2017 amid warnings that it failed to recognise the workforce’s contribution to what the union said was a £14 million (US$ 20 million) profit last year.

A spokesman for Ainscough Crane Hire said, “To provide clarity the actual pay offer is;

1st June 2015 to 31st May 2016

  • 2.5% increase on base rate
  • A new 1.5% depot performance bonus
  • 2.5% increase on the Radius Allowance
  • An improvement to the Mileage Allowance

1st June 2016 to 31st May 2017

  • A further 2.75% increase on base rate
  • An increase to 2.00% depot performance bonus
  • An increase to 2.75% on the Radius Allowance

Holiday Pay

1st September 2015 to 31st May 2016

  • First 20 days holiday pay calculated using previous P60 earnings. Average increase 2.1 %

1st June 2016 to 31st May 2017

  • First 22 days holiday pay calculated using previous P60 earnings. Average increase 2.3 %.”

The strike, which excluded the 30 cranes operating on National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry projects, is the first in a series of escalating actions the union planned over the coming weeks through to 23 March. A programme of overtime bans started on 30 January and will end on 20 March.

The union said it now feared that its efforts to bring peace to the dispute would be soured by what it claimed was Ainscough’s attempts to introduce zero hours contracts, undermining the existing collective agreement.

Bernard McAulay, Unite's national officer for construction, said, “Our members are highly skilled professionals, operating cranes on some of the UK’s largest construction projects, including the Forth Road Bridge, aircraft carriers in Rosyth and UK-wide rail infrastructure projects.”

McAulay added, “However, we fear that the drive to lower pay for the workforce won’t stop with this pay offer. We are extremely concerned that Ainscough is now drawing up plans to rip up the industry-wide agreement by introducing zero hours contracts for a pool of workers.

“These workers will then be on hire and fire contracts reducing them to a disposable workforce. This will have serious safety implications for what is already one of the most dangerous industries in the country.

An Ainscough spokesman said, “We absolutely are not replacing full time crane operators with zero hours contracts. What we have done is set up a small temporary labour pool of fully qualified personnel to assist in peak periods.”

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