Sparks strike back against umbrella agencies: NG Bailey vulnerable to action

besnaprotest (1)

● Deadlock at Manchester City ground Balfour Beatty job
● Scottish electricians to meet to set out next steps
● Action could generalise across country and industries

by Ray M, Christian C and Anindya Bhattacharyya

Over 40 electricians “cabined up” (ie refused to work) on Thursday morning at a Manchester City training ground. They are demanding “jobs on the cards” – direct employment by Balfour Beatty rather than employment via an agency.

Balfour managers have met with Unite union organisers, according to rank-and-file activist JIB Electrician. “There are more talks to come on Monday,” he says. “We’re also collating lists of every rank-and-file meeting happening around the country.”

The Manchester City action is the latest in a series of wildcat strikes by electricians against agency work. The escalation has been triggered by industry moves to turn agencies into “umbrella” companies – which would cost the typical spark some £100 a week.

At several sites – Tottenham Court Road, Three Bridges, Aldermaston – this bold action has been swiftly followed by management negotiating with the Unite union and agreeing to jobs on the cards.


Bosses wanted to make things worse for workers by making them “self employed” – ie forcing workers to pay all their holiday, sickness and national insurance costs. But this has backfired and they have been forced to up terms and conditions.

In Scotland rank-and-file electricians have called a meeting on Saturday 19 April to campaign for PAYE and against umbrellas. It starts at 10am at John Smith House, 145 West Regent Street, Glasgow G2 4RE.

These moves echo the steps taken to organise against the Besna agreement in 2011 and 2012. A national rank-and-file meeting was called to put pressure on Unite and Ucatt to act.

A combination of official union action and unofficial strikes and protests saw the sparks defeat Besna. The same tactics can defeat umbrella companies and agencies too.

NG Bailey vulnerable

In 2012 Yorkshire construction firm NG Bailey was the first to buckle. They are still vulnerable to the same tactics, as an analysis of the company shows. If activists send out the message – Break Bailey – they could win vital early ground in this battle.

The employers are worried about this spreading. This has got to be the best opportunity to fight the cancer of agency labour and demand direct employment. A national campaign can spread this to every corner of the country and finish off agency labour.

An industry source quoted in the Construction Enquirer journal said: “The sparks want a full rate and they don’t want to be coerced into using payroll companies any more. This will spread like wildfire across sites and the main contractors and clients will have to go with it despite the 25% jump in labour costs.”

Support the sparks and spread the word

NG Bailey sites include: Birmingham City University, Huddersfield Leisure Centre, Aberdeen International Business Park, Durham Freemans Reach, Lancashire NHS Foundation Trust (Blackpool), Ministry of Defence Beacon Barracks (Staffordshire). Bailey also has maintenance contracts across 420 Morrisons supermarkets.

rs21 industrial bulletin

Casualising construction: why it’s happening and how it can be stopped

Scottish Rank and File meeting

Saturday 19 April, 10am, John Smith House, 145 West Regent Street, Glasgow G2 4RE

Site Worker articles

Agency electricians stage walkout
The fight for PAYE
Latest issue of magazine
Are we better off on the cards or CIS?

Construction Enquirer articles

Self-employment pay row stops Tube station job
Site pay rows to erupt over self-employment crackdown

Guardian articles

The needless death of Richard Laco

rs21 news stories

Sparks strike at Three Bridges and protect jobs on the cards

The issues of casualisation, agencies and fake self-employment affects all sorts of industries, not just electricians and not just construction. See these reports from nurseries to universities.

Meetings across the country

JIB Electrician writes: Concerned and confused about the new tax changes??  Meetings are happening across the country over the next couple of weeks.  All trades union members, non members  –  everyone is welcome. It’s time to get organised and stop this tax con.

Monday 14 April, 7pm
Manchester Town Hall Tavern

Tuesday 15 April, 7:30pm
Liverpool Jack Jones House

Wednesday 16 April, 6:30pm
London Conway Hall

Saturday 19 April, 10am
Glasgow John Smith House

Thursday 24 April, 6:30pm
Southampton CIU Working Men’s Club, Swathling

Contact @JIBElectrician if I’ve missed any out.


  1. just been conned into one of these umbrella and found out today that my deductions include employer and employee N.I.contributions,and i have to pay them for this privlege. how are these cancerous parasites allowed to operate. i am giving my notice tomorrow i would rather stay at home than line the pockets of these thieves.every trade all over the country need to unite and stop these spivs stealing the money off hardworking construction workers


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here