In the UK, Atkins, an engineering and project management company, has responded to the coronavirus pandemic by arbitrary pay cuts, a ‘consultation’ on a change to contracts and some staff being put on notice that they are at risk of redundancy, without any consideration for the government’s furloughing scheme.
Meanwhile, colleagues in a Canadian union, the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA), have called out SNC-Lavalin, the parent company that owns Atkins, for sneaking in $2.6m bonuses for six top executives before announcing salary cuts and redundancies, just as the coronavirus crisis hit.
Denise Coombs, a staff representative for SPEA called it "an unconscionable effort to line their pockets at a time when employees are being laid off and asked to forgo some of their salary."
She added: "We are deeply outraged that SNC-Lavalin would try and pull a fast one while people are fighting for their survival during this pandemic. All government aid in Canada is aimed at protecting the jobs and income of frontline staff so that companies are able to rebound when the pandemic ends. Layoffs and cuts to pay for frontline staff should be contemplated only as a last resort.”
SPEA, just like Prospect, is calling on SNC-Lavalin to make use of the respective government coronavirus support programmes in Canada and the UK to, at the very least, delay any redundancies.
Atkins in the UK
Steve Thomas, Prospect national secretary, wrote to Atkins in late April to voice his concerns directly to the company and proposed a meeting to talk through the issues. Although, Atkins responded to the letter, they declined a meeting and did not address any of the substantive issues.
One particularly egregious aspect of Atkins’ proposals in the UK is a refusal to consider volunteers who are interested in taking redundancy. The company told workers they had “a policy of not seeking voluntary redundancy.”
Prospect has seen a spike in union membership at Atkins since the company announced its controversial proposals.
“We’re dealing with a company that has been called out for poor behaviour not only in the UK by Prospect but by our Canadian colleagues in SPEA. We continue to help members in Atkins to grow the collective strength to stand up to poor practice but also provide individual support,” said Thomas.
He noted that the chair of SNC-Lavalin’s board, Kevin Lynch, stepped down following the group’s AGM on 7 May.
“Hiring a new chair might be a good opportunity for the global group and their UK operation to get their house in order,” Thomas said.