Unite, the construction union, has secured agreement ending the scandal of workers on HS2 being denied the correct overtime rates and deprived of the correct holiday entitlement. The affected workers will also receive substantial back pay.
Earlier this week (March 26) Unite revealed that it had obtained multiple payslips from workers employed by labour supplier Bowercross Construction Ltd (BCL) on the Euston HS2 contract being undertaken by the Costain/Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV), which demonstrated that workers were not being paid the correct overtime rates and not receiving the correct holiday entitlement.
Unite estimates that the failure to pay the correct overtime rates meant that workers were on average being underpaid by over £100 a week.
Following a meeting yesterday (March 27) with CSJV, the company has committed to immediately begin paying the correct overtime rates and to increase the holiday entitlement as set out in the ‘framework agreement’ which agreed between unions and HS2 in April 2016 to ensure good working relationships throughout the project.
CSJV has also committed to provide back pay to all the affected workers who have been underpaid on the site. Unite estimates that the back pay bill is in excess of £1m.
Even with the victory on overtime and holiday entitlement serious issues remain on the troubled project. CSJV is still refusing Unite access to the canteen to freely speak to workers during their breaks. CSJV allege that a Unite officer speaking to workers during their breaks in the canteen would compromise their “health, safety and welfare”. Unite entirely refutes this suggestion and has challenged CSJV to provide evidence for its stance but it has been unable to do so.
Unite proposed a compromise, that any meeting involving more than four workers would be held in a separate room, in order not to disrupt the canteen but this was rejected by CSJV.
The uncovering of the scandal of the underpaid overtime and failure to apply the correct holiday entitlement, was the second major problem to afflict BCL and CSJV.
Last autumn Unite discovered that contrary to the agreement, BCL was not paying £1.49 a week per worker to provide the correct accident and death benefit cover. When the CSJV was challenged on this matter it not only assured Unite that the issue had been resolved but also confirmed they had conducted an extensive audit costing £60,000 of its sub-contractors and all other matters were in order.
“CSJV had no option once the scandal of the underpayments was revealed by Unite to immediately ensure the correct rates are paid,” said Unite national officer Jerry Swain.
“Questions remain about who knew and for how long; workers were being underpaid and exploited.
“The commitment to not only pay the correct rates but also ensures that everyone who has been underpaid will receive the correct back pay, demonstrated the value of unions,” he added. “Without Unite the underpayment scandal would have continued unchallenged.
““This is the second time that Unite has discovered serious problems with the CSJV contract. Since the overtime and holiday scandal was revealed, workers have come forward to raise fresh issues about pay, conditions, safety and welfare, with Unite.
“It is currently proving impossible to properly tackle these matters as CSJV continues to defy the commitment of HS2 to ensure ‘suppliers work constructively with trade unions’, by denying Unite free access to workers during their breaks.
“CSJV must understand that Unite will not allow the denial of access to remain unchallenged. Unite will be using all the levers available industrial, legal and political to ensure the workers on this site and throughout the HS2 project have proper access to the union.”