Union accuses police of ‘agenda’ over construction protests

Unite, the UK’s construction union, has accused Merseyside Police of heavy handedness following recent protests at an energy-from-waste construction site in Hooton Park, Ellesmere Port.

Activists from Unite have been demonstrating at the site since March in protest at practices on the site resulting in a “race to the bottom” for construction workers’ conditions, says the union, and undermining national construction agreements.

The site is on the border between Cheshire and Merseyside Police and following a small relocation where the protests occur the latter police force is now in charge of policing the protests, which Unite says have been entirely peaceful.

Unite members report that the police have already arrested one member and have threatened others “with regular arrests”.

The next protest will be this Friday, August 23, beginning at 05:30 until 09:00 at the Hooton Park site Wirral North Road.

The Hooton Park project is being built by Danish company Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC) at the Peel Environmental site. The site is expected to employ in excess of 400 construction workers.

The union says the demonstrations are a result of what it claims is the refusal of BWSC to observe the national agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI).

Unite says that, while BWSC has said it will pay rates in line with the NAECI agreement, it won’t observe rules on overtime pay and other benefits.

Unite claims it has been denied access to the site to speak to, and recruit, the workforce.

Unite regional officer Steve Benson said: “The heavy handed approach of Merseyside police is deeply sinister.

“Construction activists are taking part in legitimate peaceful protest and the police announcing that there ‘will be regular arrests’ indicates the police have got a clear agenda.

“Construction activists have been holding regular protests, opposing the attacks on terms and conditions, which is creating a race to the bottom for skilled construction workers.

“Workers are also alarmed that the project has failed to recruit skilled local construction workers and, instead, opted to recruit workers from further afield.”

He added: “Merseyside Police need to learn from their Cheshire counterparts who have always policed the protests in a consensual manner.

“Merseyside Police need to change their approach, or action needs to be taken to ensure that the fundamental right to peacefully demonstrate is maintained.”

A spokesperson for Merseyside Police said: “Merseyside Police recognise the right of people to protest and we have worked jointly with Cheshire Police on all deployments to the protest site in Ellesmere Port. We have also attempted to engage in constructive dialogue with protest organisers and will continue to do so.

“We remain clear that while we will facilitate lawful protest we will not tolerate disorder, criminal or anti-social behaviour during any demonstration. Our response has been proportionate to the protests over the last four months and in that time we have only made one arrest.

“Our officers will take appropriate action against anyone found to have committed an offence, in order to ensure the safety of the public, protesters and any deployed police officer. If members of the public break the law during a demonstration we will consider and take necessary action which could include the option of arrest.

“During the protests at Ellesmere Port, a 51-year-old man was arrested in North Road, Eastham. The man was arrested and subsequently summonsed for an offence of obstructing police.”