This is a statement from the construction workers’ campaign Blacklist Support Group. Follow them on Facebook by clicking here. To find the right union for you to join as a construction worker, click here.
See also the reports sent to socialist film-makers Reel News, who work with Blacklist Support, by construction workers from across the country here.
BLACKLIST SUPPORT GROUP STATEMENT ON CORONAVIRUS
Blacklist Support Group supports two linked demands for the construction sector:
#ShutTheSites – Close all non-essential building sites to keep workers and their families safe
#PAYEveryworker – Ensure every worker gets paid to ensure their families are not put into destitution
Blame greedy bosses, clients and the government NOT the workers
The vast majority of construction workers are decent hardworking people.
None of them want to put their own or their family members’ lives at risk by working in a situation where coronavirus infection is likely. Yet despite the apparent lockdown, photographs of packed building sites have been all over the media for days. When construction workers go to work, they share minibuses, travel on packed tubes, eat in crowded canteens, go up in full hoists, use palm print entry systems and live in barrack style accommodation on site. Construction is a dirty dangerous place at the best of times with notoriously poor welfare facilities, where the very process requires people to work in close proximity. Coronavirus will spread like wildfire in these circumstances.
Blame for this giant threat to public health lies with the greedy major contractors and clients continuing to enforce penalty clauses for delays; forcing building workers to come into work. Blame also lies with the government for not ordering all non-essential construction work to close.
Ministers make speeches from lecterns emblazoned with the slogan ‘Stay Home Save Lives’ but building workers are still expected to go to work. There appears to have been orchestrated lobbying by the large contractors who are also major financial donors to the Tory Party. Its all about the money.
A culture of fear
There are also widespread reports of construction workers being sacked or told not to return to site if they complain or take the decision to leave unsafe sites. Construction News even reported workers being worried about blacklisting and being told to “F*ck Off, if you don’t like it”. One electrician in central London was sacked for gross-misconduct for posting a tweet about lack of social distancing.
As blacklisted building workers, we know from personal experience that the spectre of blacklisting is still very real in the construction industry.
Big firms claim it’s a thing of the past but everyone knows it’s still going on. If safety reps get sacked, it’s no surprise that other workers keep their heads down. It’s a climate of fear that’s putting public health at risk.
Coronavirus Risk Assessment for the construction industry would highlight:
• Repeated prosecutions for breaches of H&S laws
• Blacklisting of safety reps by major contractors
• Workers being sacked where they complain abut safety
• Highest workplace fatality rates of any sector
• Intrinsically dirty work involving heavy lifting, often as a team
• Working in close proximity in confined spaces, hoists, scaffolds and trenches
• Often non-existent welfare facilities
• Almost universal bogus ‘self-employment’ where workers won’t be paid if they don’t come in
Using the law
Every worker should stay safe and put their own and family members’ safety above the profits of their employer. Blacklist Support Group urge all concerned workers in non-essential workplaces to talk to your fellow workers and collectively approach the boss to keep staff safe. If management refuse to positively respond to reasonable requests, then
legislation provides protection to employees who move themselves from an unsafe workplace.
Section 44 (1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, specifically states:
An employee has the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by his employer done on the ground that: (d) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work, or (e) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.
Using this health and safety law, coronavirus walkouts have already been organised in construction, factories, distribution depots, Royal Mail. In the US walkouts by autoworkers have closed car plants and in Italy and Switzerland the unions led strikes to close down non-essential workplaces.
Construction workers do not want to be working, with the potential of brining the virus back home to their loved ones. The mood of the industry and the whole nation is to shut non-essential building sites.
Any union officials or safety reps who are negotiating with managers about how to keep non-essential workplaces open should first and foremost talk to their members about what they actually want to happen. Then reconsider whether continuing production is likely to ensure the safety of workers and their families, or primarily benefit the company financially. Any union perceived by the workers as siding with management to keep non-essential businesses open, may suffer a backlash if the overwhelming mood of the workforce is to stay safe at home.
However agency workers and anyone classified as self-employed are not covered by this legal protection. Employment law is stacked in favour of the employers. So rather than merely quoting the law, groups of workers should join a union and approach their boss collectively. This will increase the likelihood of success and decrease the chance of any victimisation.
The majority of construction workers are also classified as self-employed, which means that if they decide to self-isolate they will not be paid by the firm they’re actually working for. If they go off sick, they won’t get sick pay. This allows the big firms to exert pressure on building workers who need money to put food on the table.
The government scheme for self-employed workers is a joke. No one gets a penny until June. How are people supposed to pay their bills? People have every right to keep a roof over their heads.The government position is changing by the day and concerted pressure can bring about further changes.
Rather than the hopeless self-employed scheme or Universal Credit of £95 a week, it would be more useful if the government made universal income payments of around £1000 to everyone in the country (as has happened in Hong Kong). No landlord or bank has a God given right to make a profit: the law of the land grants them that right, and the government can suspend that right. If the government suspended all rent, mortgage and interest payments for the next three months no one would be in fear of losing their home (as has happened in Italy).
Stay safe & keep the faith