Housebuilders Must Improve Employment And Training Practices In Return For Government Aid

Commenting on the Government’s announcement today to kick-start the housing market and assist house builders, construction union UCATT have called on the Government to demand that house builders directly employ staff and train apprentices, in return for the assistance they are receiving.

Housebuilding is the most casualised and dangerous construction sector and comprises 15 per cent of the industry.

UCATT is in possession of letters from Persimmon and Taylor Wimpy, Britain’s two largest house-building companies, stating that they do not intend to directly employ any construction workers in the future.

Rather than employ staff directly major house builders appear to be increasingly determined to use falsely self-employed workers and/or operate through sub-contractors.

By using false self-employment, through the construction industry scheme (CIS), companies do not pay national insurance contributions; avoid paying holiday pay, sick pay and pensions benefits. Workers do not have any employment rights so they can be sacked at a moments notice.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said: “Sadly our initial fears about the house builders are coming true. It is apparent that they are using the credit crunch as an excuse to sack workers and then hire new staff on a false self-employed basis. They are sitting on huge land banks and once the market recovers they will use a further casualised workforce to boost their profits. The Government, which is shoring up the industry, should use its influence to block this approach.”

In 2006/7 the last year for which figures are available there were 15 fatalities in the housebuilding sector, a doubling in the number of deaths from 2005/6. UCATT believes that the majority of the deaths are caused by casualisation and a willingness to cut corners with regard to health and safety.

Highly fragmented sub-contracting chains regularly seen on housing sites, also increase accidents and injuries as key safety messages are not passed on, or are lost.

Mr Ritchie added: “ House builders in general have a terrible record when it comes to injuries. Every death is an individual tragedy and most were easily preventable. Questions needed to be asked about why the industry is allowed to get away with killing such a large number of its workforce.”

UCATT welcome proposals to ensure that existing construction apprentices will be given assistance with finding a new employer if they are laid off by a house building company but believe that further measures are needed.

Mr Ritchie, further added: “Even when house building was booming they employed just a few hundred apprentices. This year house builders are set to recruit virtually no new apprentices. This short termist attitude is set to further increase skills shortages in the industry. If house builders want to continue to receive assistance then they must take greater responsibility for the training needs of the industry and their sector.”

For Further information contact Barckley Sumner on 0780 2329235

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