Unite is calling for separate site operating procedures to cover indoor and outdoor construction work, with stricter rules on social distancing, mask-wearing and site cleaning regimes to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The UK’s largest union, Unite, is calling on the government and the construction industry to introduce stricter social distancing measures across construction sites. The union’s intervention comes after Professor Calum Semple confirmed Unite’s belief that stricter measures are required on construction sites to tackle the rise in COVID-19 transmission.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Professor Semple admitted said that construction sites were ‘high risk’ in terms of COVID-19 outbreaks. He said: “You would have thought working outside wouldn’t be a risk but many people in construction are actually working inside before buildings are made Covid-safe. So the construction industry has turned out to be a risk that I was surprised to see.”
Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said that the union has been clear that they consider construction workers to be at high risk of contracting the virus. He said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Unite has warned that construction workers were at considerable risk.”
- Unite hits out at “dangerous” return to construction sites and demands coronavirus testing is extended to construction workers
- Unite warns construction workers not to risk their health due to shortage of dust masks
Concerns about the construction industry stem from the high use of ‘bogus’ self-employment or agency labour where workers have little or no employment rights. Unite is also concerned that many workers in the construction industry are unable to self-isolate for financial reasons as they do not fall under the government’s job retention ‘furlough’ scheme. The union believes this is an additional factor that is increasing the rates of COVID-19 within construction sites.
Jerry Swain said: “In these circumstances and with unemployment growing, workers fear that if they raise concerns they will have their contracts terminated and will struggle to find new employment.
“The professor is right that a great deal of construction work is undertaken inside, often in poorly ventilated areas. The risk of transmission is further increased in poor weather as workers seek protection indoors from the elements.”
The union has also called into question the adequacy of the site operating procedures published by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).
Jerry Swain said: “The government feeds into this body so it must be aware of the failure to address the need for the compulsory wearing of masks where workers can’t work in a socially distanced manner.
“This failure is likely to have contributed to the high transmission rate and has seriously undermined the social distancing messages vital to the protection of workers.”
Unite is particularly concerned with the safety measures being implemented on smaller construction sites and in the domestic sector, which are not subject to the same level of oversight as larger construction projects.
Mr Swain went on: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Unite has argued that construction employers need to ensure that workers are protected from when they leave home until when they return home at night. The increased level of transmission in the sector demonstrates this is simply not happening.
“Unless the government and construction employers ensure that there are strict rules on mask wearing, that social distancing and cleaning regimes are being followed, and workers can afford to self-isolate, transmission rates will continue to climb.
“Unite remains fully committed to working with employers and the government to address these issues and improve Covid safety for construction workers.”
For construction workers concerned about COVID-19 safety, the union has set-up a confidential email – [email protected] and hotline (0207 622 2442).