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Construction workers launch more wildcat action in fight for direct employment

This article is over 7 years, 9 months old
Issue 2399
Electricians down tools at NG Bailey site, Three Bridges, Sussex
Electricians down tools at NG Bailey site, Three Bridges, Sussex (Pic: Unite South East)

New employment rules for construction workers have caused angry walkouts and demands that construction firms employ their workers directly.

Building bosses’ are putting workers into new umbrella companies to sidestep new rules and make workers pay all employer contributions and their own holiday pay.

Construction workers could lose over £100 a week.

Last week 30 agency electricians won direct employment after they had walked off the job at Three Bridges Station, Crawley, Sussex.

As more action takes place it is feeding the confidence of workers to take on the bosses. 

The success in Crawley has inspired over 15 stoppages on sites across Britain. 

At the site of Manchester City’s new football training ground 40 agency electricians working for Balfour Beatty refused to work on Thursday of last week. 

Workers for NG Bailey on the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail site in London also downed tools last week. Both are demanding direct employment.

Victories at a site like Tottenham Court Road could have major implications for employment on the Crossrail project. 

It is one of the largest publicly-funded infrastructure projects in Europe—and provides contracts worth millions. 

NG Bailey is in the running for a major contract for electrical work in the tunnels at the heart of the project.

Victories could start to turn the tide against the insecure agency conditions in the industry and its knock-on effect on health and safety.

Electrician Ian Bradley told Socialist Worker, “Casualisation is rife, so, knowing you can be let go at a moment’s notice can make workers reluctant to raise safety issues.

“This latest move is just a way to keep employment casualised instead of taking us on proper contracts and giving us real jobs.

“But Three Bridges proves that action can make them do it.” 

Safety: More at risk than soldiers

The construction industry is sitting on a “ticking time bomb”. Safety standards are being run down at the same time that less experienced workers are being taken on.

This is the view of a former government advisor on the sector, Baroness Donaghy who wrote the report, One Death Too Many, for the last Labour government.

Some 760 workers have died in industrial accidents on construction sites in Britain since 2001. That’s nearly twice the rate of deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan in the last decade.

And the number of site related deaths in London has doubled. Just this week one building worker was killed at a site in Grosvenor Square, central London and another died in an accident in Richmond. Another worker was seriously injured at the Shard in London. 

Since Health and Safety Executive (HSE) funding was slashed by a third by the Tories, unannounced HSE inspections have dropped by 7 percent between 2011-12 and 2012-13.

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