Unite has warned that forcing construction workers in London onto bikes is potentially dangerous.
Unite issued its warning after Transport for London (TfL) issued travel advice for construction workers to avoid congestion on public transport.
The majority of TfL’s advice notice is aimed at the major construction contractors who have the power to implement real change, previous advice, though well-intentioned, has been aimed at people who do not have the power to implement the advice.
However, Unite is very concerned about the section of the advice that states: “Allocating those shifts starting and finishing around busy travel times (06:00 to 08:00 and 16:00 to 17:30) to workers who can walk or cycle to and from work.
Unite believes encouraging construction workers to cycle to work is potentially dangerous. Many workers will have round trips of over 15 miles into central London. Expecting workers to cycle long distances during the winter, in the dark and in bad weather is a recipe for serious accidents. Especially as the worker will be expected to cycle home in the dark, often after undertaking a physically demanding 10 plus hour shift, when fatigue will be a major factor.
A further concern that does not appear to have been considered is that London’s roads, even for an experienced cyclist, can be dangerous and to ask someone who very likely has little or no experience of navigating London’s roads in the dark is asking for trouble.
The advice also fails to appreciate that staggering shifts can’t be based on where workers live but has to be based on teams of workers to ensure efficient working on site.
Unite is also concerned that other advice issued to London construction workers advises them to leave crowded stations or services if social distancing can’t be maintained, but unless there is provision at their site to allow a worker to be late, without penalty, such advice is meaningless.
Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said, “The advice issued by TfL is welcome as it recognises that only major contractors can introduce measures to allow for the staggering of shifts.
“Although Unite is disappointed to note that there appears to be no plans to relax the Congestion Charge or parking restrictions for construction workers,” he added.
“It needs to be remembered that construction workers are not pariahs and should not be treated as such. They are going to work as the government has decided that this is appropriate and necessary,” Swain went on to say.
“Unite remains highly concerned that there is an attempt to force workers onto bikes and expect them to cycle long distances in the dark and in winter weather, undertake a long shift and return home again. This is a recipe for tragedy and should not be encouraged.
“It is essential that construction workers are able to socially distance from when they leave home, until when they return home again at night.
“Workers will not avoid congested trains unless they know that if they are late they will not be penalised or victimised, which currently occurs all too frequently on sites,” he continued.
“The safety of construction workers is Unite’s key priority and the union is committed to working with contractors, construction clients, TfL and the Mayor of London to ensure the safety of construction workers while traveling to and from work.”
Unite has produced a fully comprehensive Covid-19 construction guide which advises how workers can protect themselves at work and on their journey’s to work.
By Barckley Sumner