Construction companies to compensate blacklisted workers
Approximately £10m will be paid in compensation to over 250 construction workers who were ‘blacklisted’ and denied work by some of Britain’s largest construction firms.
The so-called blacklist resulted in hundreds of workers unfairly losing their jobs and was used by bosses as a means to vet employees, with many being tarred as trouble makers after raising legitimate work place issues. Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK, and VINCI all stand accused of paying blacklisting firm The Consulting Association for slanderous information on workers – including information such as political views and trade union activities.
The out-of-court settlement secured by the Unite union on behalf of the targeted workers could see a total pay-out of as high as £75m, with individual pay-outs possibly ranging from £25,000 to £200,000, depending on claimant factors such as loss of income and the level of the defamation. The pay-outs mean that a group litigation High Court trial, which was due to commence on 9 May, will now not go ahead; the case was settled by workers via Unite after the involved firms increased their compensation offers. Although settling out of court means construction bosses will avoid giving evidence, legal costs are estimated to reach £25m, and groups such as the Blacklist Support Group are still adamant that the firms will come to trial. Dave Smith, secretary of the BSG, told the Socialist Worker:
“The firms might have hoped that by buying their way out of a show trial the scandal will go away. It won't… A few quid and a mealy mouthed apology is a long way from justice. We intend to continue our fight to expose those who orchestrated and colluded with blacklisting.”
Despite this, a statement from Unite union claims the construction companies involved are keen to draw a line under the matter and continue working alongside the trade unions to continue to ensure the highest standards of employment practice within the workplace, and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey told The Guardian:
“This settlement is a clear statement on behalf of the trade union movement that never again can such nefarious activities be allowed to happen against decent working people trying to earn an honest living in a tough industry. The message is clear that there can never be any hiding place for bosses in the construction and any other industry thinking of reverting to shameful blacklisting practices against committed trade unionists.”
In addition to the Unite settlement, a separate settlement was reached by unions GMB and Ucatt with a claim agreed of £5.4m plus legal costs on 29 April, which could not be publicly announced until the Unite case was settled.
Apprenticeships can bridge skills gap says Autodesk director
The UK construction industry needs 216,800 new workers by 2025 to meet rising demand, according to the Construction Skills Network published by CITB.
Even before Covid-19, it was estimated it needs to attract 400,000 new recruits each year to meet the UK’s infrastructure needs.
But given one in three current construction employees are over 50 there is predicted to be a 20-25% decline in the available workforce over the next decade. And with end of the free movement of people from the EU, it has further limited access to skilled talent.
Mike Pettinella, Director, Autodesk Construction Solutions EMEA, believes the solution may be one that is hardly new, but might have taken a back seat during the pandemic.
"Apprenticeships could help us bridge the construction skills gap and meet this rapidly rising demand, and attract a new crop of younger talent to the industry," he said.
"Apprenticeships benefit everyone. For candidates, it’s an opportunity to learn valuable skills without incurring thousands of pounds of student debts. For employers, it’s a chance to train up employees in the competencies that are really needed – combining technical knowledge with collaboration and team work, which are equally important as you enter a new industry. And if you’re a larger company and already required to pay the apprenticeship levy, it makes sense to ensure you’re benefitting from the scheme too."
Marshall Construction recently took on nine new apprenticeships covering various roles. "Some of our previous apprentices have left and started their own businesses, which sets them up for life," said Chairman Robert Marshall. "Most of our current managers came from organic growth within the business whom we have trained to our own standards." Firms such as Barnwood Construction and Keepmoat Homes are also advertising and supporting apprenticeships.
According to the CSN, most English regions will experience an increase in construction workers by 2025, with East Midlands (1.7%) and West Midlands (1.4%) forecast to lead demand. Scotland (1.4%) and Wales (0.7%) are also predicted to fare well. The only region forecast to see a slight decline in workforce is the North East (-0.1%).
Major projects such as HS2 are driving growth in some regions and infrastructure (5.2%) and private housing (6.7%) should see the healthiest pace of expansion by 2025.
The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the future shape of work will be profound. Modelling by the McKinsey Global Institute on the effects of technology adoption on the UK workforce shows that up to 10 million people, or around 30 percent of all UK workers, may need to transition between occupations or skill levels by 2030.