Over 1,000 construction workers walked off their jobs on Wednesday of last week to protest against sub-contracting and agency work undermining their employment rights.
They gathered at Westminster to attend a rally and to lobby MPs.
Nearly 200 trade unionists from Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5 stopped work and came in coaches to the rally.
One Terminal 5 worker told Socialist Worker, “We forced the use of direct labour at Terminal 5 and it makes a huge difference.
“But management didn’t want people coming to the protest today.
“They have taken away bonus payments for this week but we were still determined to come.”
Another Terminal 5 worker said, “The lads decided it is about time that something is done about this issue, which affects construction workers all over the country.
“Everybody deserves the same rates of pay and the same terms of employment.”
Jon, a steel erector on a north London site, told Socialist Worker, “They make a fuss about spiralling costs on projects. The main reason is the construction bosses raking in huge money.
“One way they do it is to have sub-contractors hiring sub-contractors which leads to huge costs and to worse conditions for us.”
Workers travelled to the rally from around Britain. Mike Gaskell, the Amicus union’s Liverpool branch secretary, said, “Workers are being hired on a self-employed basis through agencies rather than being put on the payroll.
“They are taking people on as self-employed, which means they have no period of notice and workers are being laid off at the drop of a hat.”
The majority of the workers at the rally were from Amicus but they were joined by workers from the T&G, the GMB and Ucatt unions.
Ucatt estimates that 40 percent of the 2.2 million building workers employed in Britain are operating under a false self-employment regime.
These workers hold a CIS4 card, which means they and their employers pay reduced tax and National Insurance contributions.
Companies using this labour don’t operate apprenticeships or providing training.
Ian Ritchie, the Ucatt general secretary, said, “Bogus self-employment is the scourge of the industry.
It has led to massive skills shortages and continues to deny workers basic employment rights.
“There is also strong evidence that building sites using false self-employment rather than direct labour are less safe to work on.”
Most migrant workers and agency workers are issued with temporary CIS4 cards. This means they will be treated as self-employed.
Peter, a worker who walked off a site in central London, told Socialist Worker, “We are not opposed to migrant workers – many of us have worked abroad.
“It’s about bosses taking workers on at lower rates. We also want to see them go back to taking on apprentices again. People have a right to a stable job.”
When Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle spoke about the use of migrant labour, a worker shouted to applause, “It’s not the foreign lads that are the problem – it’s the sub-contracting.”
Derek Simpson, Amicus general secretary, was heckled by some workers angry at the lack of fight from the top of the union.
One of those heckling told Socialist Worker, “Lads have lost money to come here to protest and instead we are in a hall listening to crap.
“If Simpson spent less time in helicopters and a little bit more fighting we might get somewhere.”
Simpson was repeatedly heckled over a trip he took in 2004 where he spent £4,000 hiring a helicopter to take him to the Glastonbury festival.
“Did you get a helicopter here today, you prick?” came a cry from the hall.
Simpson said, “The last person to raise helicopters with me regretted it after I explained some facts to them.”
“Go on then,” a worker shouted. Simpson continued with his speech.
One voice demanded that “our general secretary be allowed to speak”, to muted applause.
Simpson repeatedly called for unity against the bosses and expressed his commitment to fight for direct employment. He said, “We will not tolerate the exploitation of cheap labour and rogue employers who attack the terms and conditions of our members.
“Without the protection of our national agreements, workers will continue to be exploited on building sites.
“It is time the government set the standards for all workers in the construction industry.”
He ended his speech by committing himself to backing strike action in the industry, “if that’s what people want”.
“Then call a strike,” came the response from one worker.
Amicus has launched a charter for the British construction and contracting industry.
It calls for the government to use only directly employed labour and for legislation that will prevent the use of cheap labour on all other projects and industry sectors.