Workers are integral to saving the flailing construction industry - so why not let them have a voice?

Submitted by sglenister on Wed, 16/01/2013 - 15:07

16 January 2013

Yesterday (15 January 2013), Minister for Construction and Tory MP Michael Fallon announced the launch of an 18-member advisory council, which has been developed by Government Chief Construction Adviser Peter Hansford in order to look at ways to help the flailing construction industry get back on its feet.

The discussions come at a key time for the construction industry, with a report from The Construction Skills Network published today revealing that 60,000 jobs were lost in the sector last year, while there was also a 9% drop in output after public sector housing building fell by 20%, private housing construction slipped by 5%, commercial sector work decreased by 10% and infrastructure construction saw a 15% downturn.

Among the “key figures” invited to be part of the Construction Industrial Strategy Advisory Council (CISAC) are the CEOs and directors of some of the sector’s biggest names, including Barratt Developments, Travis Perkins, Laing O’Rourke, Kier Group and Skanska. While the vast majority of members of the CISAC are representatives of construction employers, no representatives of construction workers were asked to join the discussion.

Director of the Institute of Employment Rights Carolyn Jones said:

“Whether it’s building houses, infrastructure projects, hospitals, schools or shops – those doing the actual work should surely have a say on how the construction sector develops.”

“The image of the construction industry has been tainted in recent years. Many large construction firms – some of which are represented on this government advisory council – have engaged in dirty dealing, blacklisting hard working construction workers simply because of their commitment to health and safety on site.”

“Now it would appear the Government intend to institutionally block the voice of workers by excluding them from an advisory body aimed at the development of a coherent industrial strategy for the construction industry. The government – and the industry – would be better served if they embraced the knowledge, expertise and ideas of unions representing construction workers on a daily basis.”

The IER suspects that the construction industry would be the ideal place to begin developing sectoral bargaining and collective agreements to ensure appropriate standards are maintained over a wide range of employment rights, including health and safety, training and apprenticeships, and pay and conditions. Taking this path – which ensures firms compete on the basis of innovation and investment and not by undercutting workers’ rights – is the only progressive way forward, but the government’s choice to exclude unions from discussions suggests they will be turning a deaf ear to such advice.

Once the review is complete, the CISAC will launch their industrial strategy for construction in the summer.

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