EMPLOYEES at the former Norweb depot in Blackburn are locked in a pay dispute that has divided former work mates.

Workers have been offered a different deal by new owners Alstom that will see over 100 contracting engineers paid £3,000 less than their colleagues who are employed in the transmission and distribution division.

Following a walk-out earlier this week, the contractors are planning a second day of industrial action next month in a bid to persuade bosses at Alstom to restore pay parity.

Feelings among the feuding workers at the Whitebirk depot are running high in the dispute which also involves sites in Preston, Bury, Manchester, Salford and Scotland.

Martin Magdzinski, contract manager for Alstom, said: "You can cut the atmosphere with a knife between employees that are on different deals.

"It isn't on that one set of workers can be paid more than another in the same company that have previously been on the same pay schemes. It is a disgrace that this could be allowed to happen to electricians working for the same company." The AEEU union has been brought into the dispute and senior shop steward Steve Davies was on site during the day of action earlier this week. He said: " I was on site to help keep things calm."

A management shake-up at the Blackburn depot followed its sale by United Utilities to Alstom.

Workers in the transmission and distribution busines were offered £4,000 to accept a new deal.

Electricians in the contracting division claim they have only been offered £1,000 to accept the deal and say they will also be affected by a pay freeze and reduced sick and holiday pay.

Philip Bagot, an electrician for Alstom, said:

"The new deal is ridiculous. How am I supposed to provide for my family if I fall sick and only receive £50 per week?"

No one at Alstom was prepared to comment on the dispute.