Unite today (April 26) held a demonstration at the troubled HS2, Costain/Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV) at Euston, as concerns grow about the treatment of the workforce.
The Unite demonstrators, some of whom were dressed as skeletons, were asking the question – what other skeletons has CSJV got in its closet?
Unite has unearthed that workers are being underpaid overtime, had the wrong holiday entitlement, are forced to operate via umbrella companies, and were not covered for death and accident benefits.
All of these issues are clearly set out in a framework agreement, between HS2 and trade unions, but Costain/Skanska has been unable or unwilling to properly implement it, to the detriment of the workers.
Unite’s ability to identify other skeletons in Costain/Skanska’s closet is being limited because the CSJV has barred Unite from freely speaking to workers in the canteen during breaks.
CSJV has claimed that the reason Unite has been barred from the site is because workers are too traumatised after removing centuries old human remains from the St James Gardens area and need to ‘decompress’ rather than speak to a Unite official about workplace issues.
Rather than allow Unite free access to speak to workers in the canteen, CSJV has instead offered to provide a separate room where workers can arrange to meet with a union official. This offer is a clear breach of the industrial agreement and the HS2 framework agreement and Unite found this would be under the noses of management, and with Skanska and Costain both guilty of blacklisting construction workers, Unite has rejected the proposal.
Unite has been holding regular protests outside the site and has recruited a substantial number of workers to the union.
“Every time Unite speaks to workers on this troubled site it finds more skeletons bursting out of the closet,” said Unite national officer Jerry Swain.
“Basic employment rights are being routinely flouted and CSJV has been supine in its indifference to the exploitation being faced by workers on its sites,” he added.
“Unite was given an undertaking by Skanska/Costain’s project director that the correct overtime premiums would be applied and such payments would be backdated.
“It now appears that this was not the truth and it is difficult to see how the joint venture can retain any credibility on this project.
“It is disturbing to think what other vital components of the project are also being treated with the same degree of contempt.
“If workers are genuinely traumatised by their experiences then it is absolutely imperative that they receive help and assistance from Unite, in order to prevent further problems developing,” Swain went on to say.
“The morale of the workforce is being seriously affected by the mistreatment on the site, which is likely to be severely affecting productivity.”
The biggest sore for workers is the issue of underpaid overtime which is costing many of the affected workers over £100 a week.
Unite previously discovered that labour supply company Bowercross Construction Ltd was not paying the correct overtime rates. However after paying the correct rates to around 200 affected workers for a fortnight, Bowercross has since reverted to underpaying overtime rates, wrongly stating it had discovered a ‘loophole; which allowed it to do so.
Unite understands that the decision to stop paying the correct overtime rates was with the connivance and support of Costain/Skanska.