On the final day of the TUC Conference (Wednesday, September 11), Congress overwhelmingly passed an emergency motion demanding that HS2 takes immediate action to allow unions access to workers building the multi-billion pound project.
The motion, moved by Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail, was raised after the continued refusal by the Constain Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV) to allow Unite officials to speak to HS2 workers during their breaks at the site in Euston.
Cartmail lambasted the CSJV as forming part of two companies that are “proven blacklisters”, that have “claimed to change their ways” but whose “actions show that a leopard doesn’t change its spots”.
She described the conditions that construction workers are under — frequently chalking up sixty hours a week and constantly changing sites and employers.
“It’s tough on them and it’s tough on their families,” Cartmail explained, “so it is standard practice for union officials to speak, assist and recruit members when they take their breaks in the workplace canteen — a standard practice that Costain Skanska has refused to allow.”
She slammed the CSJV’s reasoning for barring Unite from their site as “both disingenuous and sinister”.
“They say that workers need to ‘decompress’ after being involved in the removal of centuries old skeletons on the site,” she said. “If workers are traumatised this is when they most need their union. And the workers tell us they want us on the inside.”
Cartmail said that while it was laudable that the Labour party has pledged to introduce new laws to allow unions access to all workplaces once they are in government, she added that unions cannot wait for a change in government or laws.
“We need access now,” she affirmed. “Construction has suicide rates three times the national average and massive mental health issues – long hours and working away from home.”
Cartmail pointed out that it is well within HS2’s power to demand that all contractors follow the Framework Agreement “signed by the TUC and HS2 – a good agreement that should underpin union access and workers’ rights”.
“The trade union movement must be united and say HS2 must be built and run with trade unions provided free and fair access to the workforce,” she concluded. “We expect nothing less than unions jobs on union rates.”
The motion was carried.