Looking ahead after BESNA
29th February 2012
The past two weeks have seen a flurry of activity on the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA), with the proposal coming to an end after much dispute. It was first mooted by the Heating & Ventilation Contractors Association (HVCA) in August 2011 and has seen some of the most turbulent industrial relations disputes in the industry’s recent history.
The agreement was made up of eight supporters: Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES), Crown House, Shepherd Engineering Services, Gratte Brothers, Spie Matthew Hall and T Clarke, NG Bailey and MJN Colston, with MJN Colston leaving the breakaway group shortly after the idea was first mentioned.
The idea of BESNA was to implement a new agreement in preference to the existing JIB national agreements for plumbing and electrical.
Its objective was to harmonise mechanical, electrical and plumbing operatives’ pay and terms and conditions of employment across all disciplines.
The proposed details outlined how operatives would continue to be directly employed; with standardising rates of pay across the workforce, no planned redundancies because of the agreement, and maintaining existing pensions and welfare benefits.
The group at the time stated that the agreement would provide the flexibility needed to create the multi-skilled and integrated workforce essential for the delivery of sustainable construction projects that are “fit for the 21st Century”, while streamlining existing agreements and creating a more integrated workforce.
So, what happened over the past few weeks for the group of eight to change their minds and remove support for the agreement?
Well, firstly it appears it didn’t have the support of the people on the ground – the engineers and construction workers.
There were a whole host of protests involving Unite across many different sites over the past few months. This was a big nail in the coffin, as the major change came when Balfour Beatty pulled out of the agreement after realising that strike action was inevitable. The others quickly followed suit and the agreement fell apart.
HVCA has just released its first statement following the withdrawal: “In consultation with the remaining companies and following discussions with Unite, it has been agreed that HVCA will withdraw its proposal for the BESNA.
“As a result of today’s decision by HVCA, Unite has agreed not to pursue further industrial action or protests against the BESNA companies.
“HVCA, supported by its member companies, will now engage in high-level talks with Unite within an agreed timeline, with the aim of creating new proposals and ensuring agreed terms are honoured.”
Whether the BESNA was the right method is hotly disputed but one thing is sure, there is a desire from all parties for one defined agreement, for the benefit of all employees.
It may well have taken some time to get here, and gone through some tumultuous times, but as an industry, if we are working towards a common goal, that can only be a positive step.
The agreement has been a catalyst for changes and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here but I think it is important to note that a lesson has been learned, ignore the voices of employees at your peril, for they are the true deciders.