DOZENS of protestors took to the streets – causing traffic chaos – outside a waste incineration plant this morning (Monday, February 4) to voice concern over the amount of foreign labour employed there.

Unions organised the demonstration after they said they were denied access to the SITA North East Energy Recovery Centre (NEERC), at Haverton Hill, near Billingham, which is under construction.

About 70 demonstrators took part in a two-hour protest on roads outside the plant, which caused long tailbacks on surrounding roads during rush hour.

Unions said they believed up to 60 per cent of construction workers were from overseas, despite a large local skills base.

Tom Allison, of trade union the GMB, said: “The protest was about the lack of communication from the contractor with regards to dealing with the unions on site.

“We haven’t had any access arrangements yet. The other thing is we have expressed concern about the high volume of overseas labour.

“There is a recession and we have the skills in the area for these jobs. We think they should use that. There is concern in the community and there isn’t a lot of work about at the moment and it is a large site in the area.

“We can see if an employer has a resource problem they might supplement the local labour force with overseas skills. But it should be that way around, not the other. We spoke to one worker through the fence and he said there was about 60 per cent foreign workers there.

“We can’t get any answers out of the main contractors – they gave us a list of names and said we would have to contact each contractor in turn to get their individual figures on overseas labour. By the time we get through all that the contract will be finished.

“We don’t know what the rates of pay are being applied. There is no dialogue and we are naturally suspicious when they won’t allow us to find out. We will have members in there but it is difficult to find out when they won’t allow us on site.”

SITA’s main contractor on the site is Hitachi Zosen Inova. The Northern Echo contacted the company, and made numerous attempts to contact SITA yesterday - but both companies declined to comment.

However, a SITA spokesman was quoted as saying the door had “never been closed” to union members.

The NEERC has been under construction for a year and is expected to be operational by early 2014. It will manage up to 256,000 tonnes of waste each year and produce enough electricity to power homes in a town the size of Hartlepool.

When SITA applied for planning permission in 2008 it promised Stockton Council it would provide “hundreds of jobs” in the construction phase.

Just last week SITA was awarded a £112m contract by Durham County Council to manage 140,000 tonnes of waste each year.

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