A temporary solution to cover wages paid to operatives in the building engineering sector during the COVID-19 lockdown has been agreed by Unite and BESA
Workers are usually guaranteed wages equivalent to 37.5 hours in any normal week under the terms of the HVAC National Agreement, which is co-signed by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) on behalf of the sector’s employers and Unite the union, which represents construction workers.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to nationwide closures of sites and dramatically reduced workloads. As a result, the two bodies have agreed on temporary arrangements in line with the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This will allow BESA employers, who use the National Agreement, to agree alternative arrangements with their staff to cover this uncertain period.
This temporary arrangement will be in place for an initial period of 12 weeks. This position will be reviewed by BESA and Unite in four weeks’ time and a regular dialogue will continue between the two parties to monitor how it is working.
Tim Hopkinson, chief negotiator of the HVAC/BESA Operative National Agreement, commented: “The 37.5 hour guaranteed week remains an integral part of the HVAC/BESA Agreement and this will not change.
“However, in the present exceptional and unprecedented period of national emergency both parties recognise the need for clear and decisive action to support the industry and its workforce.”
Protect businesses, health and wellbeing
He added that it was imperative that all parties to the agreement continued to work cohesively “to protect businesses and the health and wellbeing of our people and their families.”
“We are pleased, therefore, to have worked with Unite to reach a temporary solution that we are confident will help protect the industry and its skilled people in the hope we are all able to return much stronger when the current national emergency has ended,” said Hopkinson.
BESA said it would publish more information about the government’s scheme on its website as further details become available along with any examples of industry good practice. The association encouraged employers in the meantime who were contemplating taking part in the job retention scheme to begin discussions with affected employees in good time.
The greater good of the industry
BESA chief executive, David Frise said he was pleased both bodies had been able to work together quickly to clarify the situation for the greater good of the industry and its workforce.
“The National Agreement has been the centrepiece of employee relations in the H&V contracting sector since 1911 and the need for this to continue during these unprecedented circumstances has never been more crucial,” he said.
“It is important, therefore, that we all work together to ensure the stability of businesses and the operatives they employ.”
BESA also announced that apprenticeships in the building engineering sector would continue throughout the crisis. All of the relevant colleges in England, Scotland and Wales have now moved their learning systems to online platforms and the government has confirmed that any furloughed apprentices would still be able to continue with their studies.
BESA’s director of training and skills Helen Yeulet, added: “This is very positive news for apprentices and their employers.
“In fact, this is a great opportunity for apprentices to get up to speed with their theoretical work and the off-the-job learning elements of the course. As a result, they should be in a good place by the time they get back to working on site.”