Today the UK’s largest construction companies are reaping the negative consequences of what they have created over a period of 20 years, namely the creation of a dominant sub contract & agency focused worker environment.
There was a time when the vast majority of construction workers were employed directly by their respective employer on a PAYE basis and as such benefited from a degree of job security and a level of protection that in the unfortunate event they were to fall ill or for whatever reason were unable to work, they would be financially supported. In addition, a PAYE employee would also benefit from paid holidays, pension contributions, maternity leave and other benefits often linked with direct PAYE employment.
Today however the greed of the large construction companies has served to all but destroy the security & protection once afforded to the majority of construction workers. The greed of these large companies has seen the long term job security of PAYE employment all but wiped out from construction and for what reason? Increased Wealth by side stepping the financial responsibility for the welfare of others. On the whole construction companies have knowingly and systematically chosen to remove and distance themselves from any liability and responsibility they would ordinarily be obliged to provide to employees under direct PAYE employment.
Today the vast majority of construction workers have no job security, they are faced with having to provide their own health insurance, they don’t receive any maternity/paternity pay, they have to provide their own pensions, they also battle the cheap labour influx into the UK from the European Market that has served to have a negative effect on the availability of work and the rates charged. Construction as a sector then has the audacity to start questioning why the issue of mental health and suicide is so prevalent and is on the rise throughout construction. It is a shameful and ignorant response beyond comprehension when the construction industry now desperately searches for solutions to address mental health issues, they should all take a step back and acknowledge they are the root cause.
So what is the answer? Simple make the greedy owners of these large construction companies more accountable by enforcing PAYE labour and in doing so make them financially responsible for all those construction workers that will be put to task to deliver their projects.
Is this model achievable? Most defiantly one the UK’s largest, Sir Robert McAlpine are a shining example of what is achievable. Speak to a Sir Robert McAlpine employee about their company and they will generally respond in such a way that you would be hard pushed to believe that they were not shareholders or owners of THEIR company. Yes 'their' company, they feel as though they belong to 'their' company, they are part of 'their' company, and valued!
In return what do the owners of Sir Robert McAlpine receive for sticking with PAYE employment? Well I don’t know what their accident or time off work statistics are but I would suggest they will be extremely low and here’s the catch, I would also suggest that their productivity levels are without question some of the highest in the UK construction sector. Add to this that staff retention levels are almost certain to be way above the industry average and you have a model that works in today's construction world.
Large construction companies are also blind to the other serious consequence that their collective greed has served to create and that is where the Health & Safety of construction workers is concerned. Whilst it can be acknowledged that injuries and fatalities in construction has vastly improved over the last 10 years, one fatality is a fatality too many. It is also worth remembering that where Occupational related diseases are concerned, the UK’s record is one of the poorest in the developed world…shocking to say the least and totally unacceptable. The latter being borne of a non caring, profit driven, greed based dominance throughout construction.
The aforementioned has been achieved by removing any connection between the construction worker and their security together with their future prospects and replaced with uncertainty and any chance of career path progression eradicated. Furthermore sub contract & agency workers are expected to buy in to the safety ethos that the owners and operators of large construction companies so fervently pay lip service to….Really? How are sub contract or agency construction workers stripped of any future and security and a sense of belonging expected to 100% buy into what is in essence a temporary request, issued by faceless suits? The truth is they can’t! To buy into something you need to feel part of it, you need to feel valued and loved but that relationship possibility has been completely removed.
This poisoned cocktail that is construction is then further fueled by the the majority of construction companies deliberately searching and implementing ways to reduce their outlay and avoid paying sub contractors and agency workers they engage to deliver their projects on agreed and measurable rates of pay. This is achieved by hiding behind craftily and carefully worded contracts and employing Quantity Surveyors whose sole purpose is to pay sub contractors and agencies as little as possible.
Construction in the UK is rotten to its core!
The solution to all of the above to once and for all resolve this sorry state of affairs could not be simpler, Governments need to get tough with large construction companies and make them more responsible and engaged with the workers they are putting to task to carry out their projects.
As a small fish in a big pond who has represented their respective specialist construction sector on Build UK Health & Safety committees and attending Build UK seminars, all aimed at bringing to the fore the issue of mental health in construction, the hypocrisy and lack of understanding on behalf of the construction sector in recognising the monster it has created, never ceases to amaze.
If you need to weed, always aim to pull out the root!
Churchill Specialist Contracting Ltd