by Anindya Bhattacharyya and Brian Parkin
“EU policy at work. British workers are hit by unlimited cheap labour. Take back control of our country. Vote UKIP 22 May.” A picture of a white, presumably British, construction worker begging for small change. But the real picture in construction is pretty much the opposite of this UKIP election poster that’s been generating publicity online.
There is a massive regional imbalance in construction. Overall picture is one of contraction: the total UK construction workforce has dropped by a fifth in five years. Scotland is a slight exception with its devolved and enthusiastically pursued revenue and investment rights.
For the moment the boom is still on in London. The churn of labour here is astonishing: workers are recruited, drop out and only to be recruited again elsewhere in the city. Self-employment in construction is rife, and at a much higher rate than outside the capital, especially for specialist jobs like tunnelling.
On a typical London construction site 16% of its intake have no previous experience. These will typically be workers with no health & safety training, with English as a second language, coming from eastern Europe.
The picture is not one of rapacious Romanians and Poles pricing British construction workers out of a job. In London there is a labour shortage and the Romanians and Polish workers get the worst jobs. Nobody paid for all this more than Richard Laco. As the Observer recounts: the 31-year old worker from Slovakia died needlessly, felled by a concrete stairwell late last year:
The number of fatalities in the capital, where the clearest signs of growth in the industry can be seen, has doubled from four in 2011-12 to eight in 2012-13, and it is believed to have remained at around that number during the last year, if not higher.
Outside London things are tighter – but a race to the bottom on health and safety, and terms and conditions, are the last thing anyone, British, Romanians, Polish, whatever, needs.
“26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose job are they after?” Yours, says the finger pointing at you, conscripting you to the UKIP cause 100 years on from Kitchener.
Meanwhile the real robbery of construction workers goes unnoticed by UKIP. Electricians are striking back against a tax rip-off: agencies reinventing themselves “umbrella companies”, getting workers to sign new contracts as “self-employed”, and thus forcing holiday, sick and insurance costs onto the workforce. In London this can cost a spark £140 a week.
The accident rate is rising, an early warning of the storm to come. Generally in a recessionary climate there is less construction, less exposure to hazards, and fewer accidents. The London megaboom reverses all that.
There is a race to the bottom on unionisation and site safety standards. The accident rate is out of control and under-reported: only 9% of minor accidents get reported, and that drops to nil among self-employed workers.
We need to expose the other face of UKIP and show up their arguments as the racist delusions they are. Time we faced the facts: the real enemy is at home, and it’s the contractors, subcontractors, agencies and umbrella firms.
Let’s unite as workers and demand and end to precarious and dodgy employment.
- pic: EU policy at work
- pic: UKIP lies at work
- Daily Mail: Ukip causes stir with posters
- rs21: Taking control of the future of the city
- The Observer: The needless death of Richard Laco
- pic: 26 million people
- pic: Who gets the blame?
- rs21: Sparks strike back against umbrellas
- rs21: Casualising construction