‘Slave Labour’ building nuclear plants

Two nuclear power plants of the type proposed for Hinkley and Sizewell are currently under construction. One of them is at Flamanville in France and the other at Olkiluoto in Finland. Both are over budget and suffering from long delays and it is not certain whether either of them will be completed. However, this post is about the construction jobs at these sites.

Both construction sites rely heavily of foreign labour and the pay and work conditions have been cut below minimum  to try to make nuclear competitive with other low carbon sources of energy.


Polish Workers at Olkiluoto

The 4000 or so people who have worked on the Olkiluoto site have been from over 60 countries with more than 1,200 coming from Poland.

Olkiluoto has proved to be a severe challenge to the once strong Finnish trade union movement with contractors successfully contesting the right of Finnish unions to regulate the site, placing labour relations in a deregulated space between national system1

In 2011 Polish began to organise against the conditions and were later supported by the Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union successfully winning back over £1million euros in compensation for unpaid wages, holiday pay and expenses2. However, in November 2011 a large number of electricians were sacked including those who had earlier sued their employers.

“This is a brutal attack against the right to organise, guaranteed under Finnish legislation, and against the core activity of the trade union movement”, says Hannu Luukkonen, who is responsible for cases at the Olkiluoto construction site at the Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union3. Trade unionists threatened to blockade the site4 and the workers were reinstated but working at other sites rather than Olkiluoto5.

“Olkiluoto has been a complete disappointment for us. There have been fewer than 100 Finnish builders there. It is the view of our experts that huge amounts of cheap labour have been brought here from abroad to work inefficiently�, Said Kyösti Suokas, co-chairman of the Finnish Construction Union6.


In July 2011 a delegation of Socialist and Democrat MEPs led by the chair of the European Parliament’s employment committee, French deputy Pervenche Berès described the working conditions at Flamanville as “a case of modern-day slavery,�7. Taxes and social security contributions were deducted from their pay slips but were never paid. As soon as these problems came to light, the workers were sent home overnight, without any other action being taken.

On 24 June 2011, the newspaper L’Humanité published a report of 6 June 2011 by the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) recording serious violations of labour law on this site. For 2010, the ASN reported 112 accidents at work, of which 38 were serious. This included three deaths in five months8.

This is not surprising since according to French union CGT the vast majority of Romanian workers, employed by Bouygues Construction, work between 10 and 15 hours per day. “Sometimes they start at 6 am and end at 22 o’clock at night. It’s unacceptable,” Jacques Tord of CGT told french newspaper France Soir9.

As in Olkiluoto there is a long history of breach of basic trade union rights at the site including dismissing workers for striking over conditions or safety issues10.

Yannick Rousselet from Greenpeace France said ‘There are 18 different nationalities working there and most of the work is done by sub-contractors. This means there is no job security and the pay is poor. Workers get shipped in and shipped out and have none of the benefits of permanent work.’

He added: ‘People have been flooding into the area because they have heard that work is available but then they find there is nothing. This means that local unemployment has actually increased since construction at Flamanville began.’11

1 National unions and transnational workers: the case of Olkiluoto 3, Finland, Nathan Lillie, University of Groningen

2 Electrical workers’ union puts in court claims for millions of euros in respect of 115 Polish electricians, SAK (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions), September 2011

3 Polish company sacks dozens of organized electricians in Finland, SAK(Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions), November 2011

4 Olkiluoto kolmonen saartoon (Number three, the Olkiluoto blockade),Verkkolehti, 23 November 2011 

5 Polish Elektrobudowa re-employs the electricians it sacked arbitrarily, SAK (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions), June 2011

6 Concrete cover ups and others at nuclear construction site, Helsingin Sanomat, February 2010

7 Flamanville: a case of modern-day slavery, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament

8 Infringement of labour law and social legislation at the Flamanville EPR site, European Parliamentary Questions

9 Flamanville – One in three workers is … from Eastern Europe!, France Soir, November 2011

10 Flamanville EPR: The EDF CGT warning on the importance of social control, l’Humanite, June 2011

11 Workers at Hinkley C nuclear power plant in for a raw deal, Stop Hinkley


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