ELECTRICITY workers are holding a series of 48-hour strikes which mean delays in power cuts being repaired.
Manweb industrial staff are in dispute over a business venture with Alfred McAlpine which they fear will jeopardise jobs, pay and conditions.
The first strike took place on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week involving 1,500 workers from the ScottishPower group, including Manweb, which covers Cheshire, Merseyside and North Wales.
Another strike is planned for the same time next week and there is also an overtime ban plus a boycott on standby working.
Involved are employees who maintain the cable network and are based at Prenton, Liverpool, Wrexham and Warrington.
AEEU national officer Dougie Rooney, also speaking for the GMB and T & G unions, said: 'All members of the three unions deeply regret the inconvenience that could be caused to the public if, as a consequence of this action, power cuts take place.
'However, we have entered into an agreement to ensure that life and limb cover will be given, ie any dangerous situation will be made safe and customers with special needs will not be endangered.
'The management are to blame for this militancy. Indeed, there has never been a dispute of this kind before. However, members of the public should direct their protests to the company.'
Mr Rooney said staff felt betrayed because an earlier dispute over proposed job losses had been settled with an agreement which stated all ScottishPower's businesses would be retained as well as committing management and unions to partnership working.
Employees felt it was 'an appalling act of deception' on discovering in August that the company was talking to Alfred McAlpine about a joint venture for the new connections business.
The idea is that 320 employees from across ScottishPower, including about 200 from the Manweb area, would be transferred to the new enterprise.
ScottishPower says the partnership is needed to capture a bigger slice of the connections market, which has been opened up to competition.
Previously, the company was only allowed to connect new supplies on its own patch, but the change means the whole of England and Wales is now up for grabs.
Manweb spokesman Alun Jones said: 'It's ScottishPower's view that joint venture with McAlpine's is the only option offering long-term security for the new connections business.
'The company is disappointed with the proposed industrial action which is against the official recommendation of the union, who accept the joint venture.'
Mr Jones said the deal with McAlpine's would protect the wages and conditions of those who transferred for a two-year period.
He said there were contingency plans to deal with breakdowns on the network but customers could be faced with delays.
'If there was a problem with supply, it would probably take longer than normal,' he said.
'We would try and avoid any inconvenience to customers.'
* Just minutes after the strike started at midnight on Monday there were problems with a cable in Russell Street, Boughton. Businesses affected included the Harley Davidson centre and the Caspian takeaway, which were without power until 12.30pm yesterday.
Houses in Maple Grove, Hoole, were without power for 11 hours on Tuesday.