A new row has broken out over job policies at an under-construction ‘green’ energy plant, reports Mike Delaney.
Some local tradesmen have expressed anger that they are being ‘frozen out’ of work at the biomass plant being built at Tullis Russell paper mill in favour of those from outwith the area.
The employment situation has been defended by the company behind the project, but local politicians are monitoring the situation.
The plant is being built for RWE npower renewables, but the project involves extensive sub-contracting to companies based in locations ranging from Fife to Finland.
When the project was unveiled, there were claims that it would give the area a much-needed jobs boost, but there have been repeated complaints that this has failed to materialise.
One ‘disgusted local trademan’, who wanted to remain anonymous “for fear of being blacklisted on this job if ever local labour might be used”, expressed “concern and total disbelief” at the situation.
“I, along with countless other local tradesmen, have been trying unsuccessfully for months now to gain employment on this high-profile contract,” he added.
“There are scores of talented and qualified tradesmen and labourers in the immediate vicinity of this project to do the job to the required standard without bringing in what I would class as cheap labour from abroad and all to the cost of the local labour force as I and others are being forced to travel away from home to gain employment when there are jobs on our own doorstep that we cannot even be considered for.”
Four hundred people will be employed on construction of the plant at its height and 30 once it is up and running and last week - partly in response to the ongoing criticism - the company announced that four of the latter staff had been hired locally, although only one came from the immediate area.
Glenrothes MSP Tricia Marwick said: “I am aware that there continues to be concerns from some people about employment opportunities for local workers at Tullis Russell’s biomass project in Markinch.
“I have previously written to the main on-site contractor to ask how my constituents can apply for suitable vacancies.
“I have also this week written to senior officials at Tullis Russell to gain an assurance that the local workforce are being considered for available opportunities at the biomass site.
“The biomass project is providing a boost for the local area and it has secured the jobs of many existing workers at Tullis Russell.
“As the MSP for Glenrothes, I will continue to do what I can to ensure as many constituents of mine as possible benefit from this project.”
MP Lindsay Roy added: ‘’With the announcement of such a major project, there have been high expectations locally that an increasing number of jobs will become available locally as the work progresses.
‘’For several months now, I have been in contact with Job Centre+, RWE and workers’ representatives about such opportunities.
‘’I have had repeated assurances that jobs will be advertised locally through Job Centre+ who have an online link with Aker Advantage for work in fabrication, steel erection and welding and apparently there is a register of over 60 applications.
‘’However, the last advert was in September and according to Job Centre+, there have been only three jobs advertised locally at the biomass plant over the last two weeks.
‘’Over the last few days, I have had around 20 contacts with my office from local workers who are angry and frustrated that they have had no replies to their applications from Aker Advantage.
‘’These are experienced, well qualified workers in welding, steel erection and associated work.
‘’I have taken up this unsatisfactory situation directly.
“Peter Wilson from RWE has assured me that he will contact the sub-contractors to ensure that jobs are openly advertised and that they will respond to those who are applying for work at Markinch.
“I have also received a copy of an e-mail from ZRE Katowice who state that more job adverts will go out this week.
“It is the case that, under the national agreement for the electrical construction industry, where foreign companies win contracts in the United Kingdom, they are entitled to use their existing workforce - as long as they are properly qualified.
“If they require additional staff, they should recruit locally wherever possible and it is the case that the majority of the total workforce at the site are, and will continue to be, either local or UK workers.
“I have repeatedly emphasised how vital it is that local contractors and workers have confidence that they are being treated fairly in accessing work on this major construction project.
“I understand that there are regular meetings of a project joint council involving contractors and trade unions and these, and other issues, are on the agenda.”
A project spokesman said: “As client for the £200m investment at Markinch, RWE npower renewables ensures that the project is delivered to the required standards and in line with all relevant legislation, including EU procurement laws.
“Neither RWE nor any of our contractors are permitted to discriminate between workers from one country or another.
“The wage rates and conditions of employment on the site for the ‘in-scope’ works are governed by National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry.
“This agreement does not discriminate between the nationality of any worker.
“The numbers of non UK-based contractors and labour on site will change as the project progresses and specialized skills are required.
“However local people have been and will continue to be an important part of the workforce, both as a part of contractor teams and through the on-going recruitment drive for the operational jobs, essential to the long term running of the facility. The latest audit of the NAECI labour force, which includes data (from late September to late October, reports that 65.8 percent of the in-scope labour force is from the UK.”