GMB has responded to the government’s announcement that HS2 has been given the go-ahead, stating that the safety of construction workers should be the ‘priority’ – including social distancing measures and adequate PPE.
The government today gave formal approval for construction work to begin on the HS2 rail project, despite the lockdown measures that are currently in force.
In acknowledging the limitations imposed on construction firms, the government said they will need to follow social distancing rules while working on the high-speed rail project.
HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said: “We cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country”.
However, the decision to begin construction work during the coronavirus pandemic drew criticism from some quarters. Matthew Kilcoyne, deputy director of the free-market Adam Smith Institute, called the government’s announcement “tone-deaf” in the light of the current coronavirus crisis.
Mr Kilcoyne said:
We’ve got an economic crisis that’s going to cost taxpayers billions. We can’t afford vanity projects like HS2.
We need to get back on to a sustainable financial footing.
The GMB Union, which represents construction workers as well as workers in the wider supply chain, responded to the news by saying workers’ safety must be the “priority”.
Eamon O’Hearn, GMB National Officer, said:
GMB wants to protect workers jobs, health and pay – HS2 is a project of national importance but the safety of its workforce, and supply chain, must be the overriding priority.
Construction should be conditional on rigorous observation of social distancing, provision of personal protective equipment where required, individualised risk assessments for workers with underlying conditions, and mandatory dialogue between contractors of all levels and recognised unions.
This is an extremely worrying time for everyone in the construction industry and GMB will be fighting HS2 workers’ corner in the days and months ahead.