Unite members at EDF Energy working in metering services in London, South West, South East and Eastern regions have won major concessions in a long running dispute over pay and conditions. The priority item for staff covered by long standing agreements was the issue of increased evening and weekend working. The employers have now agreed that this will apply to volunteers only and those not covered by the agreements. In addition, the employer has dropped proposals to fit tracker devices in vehicles and the introduction of random drug and alcohol testing. This shift by the employers followed five days of strike action, with solid pickets as well as protest action which effectively blocked the entrance to the main HQ building at Bexleyheath.
The big lesson is that well planned, strategic strike action works. The union pulled out workers whose role is to fit Smart meters – something that the company is under pressure to complete or face fines. These workers turned out in large numbers to picket and demonstrate on every day of the strike. In a sign of things to come, the company called out the Police when the campaign organised the protest blocking the entrance to the building and causing traffic congestion. On the first day, the Police simply asked that the protest stop, which it did. On the second day, the Police turned up and threatened mass arrests. On the third day, they turned up with several vehicles looking to make arrests – luckily, no protests had been planned for the third day!!
Unite are now preparing for battles on a number of fronts with EDF. The company are proposing to reduce the revenue protection staff by 50% – while millions of pounds in stolen electricity is not recovered from landlords or business. This policy decision means that even when theft is discovered EDF write off the stolen electricity. Meanwhile, there are over 49,000 avoidable deaths each year from fuel poverty and bills continue to be far too high at the same time as energy costs fall with the drop in wholesale prices. The union is also preparing its pay claim for 2016.
The win by metering staff has set an example and shows how these new campaigns can also be fought and won.