Coronavirus: Unions urge non-essential building sites to close until staff protected

Construction Industry Federation says it has directed all sites to comply with guidelines


The trade union movement has called for all non-essential building sites to be closed until it is shown that they are compliant with measures to protect staff against the coronavirus.

In a letter to the Construction Industry Federation on Thursday, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) said all construction sites deemed to constitute “essential services” should be identified immediately and assessed to ensure their full compliance with public health advice on dealing with Covid-19 and health and safety legislation.

Ictu also said fully-appropriate personal protective equipment should be supplied to all workers on these sites.

In the letter Ictu industrial officer Liam Berney said: ‘Non-essential services’ construction sites should be closed until they are fully compliant in line with all of the above. A full risk assessment of all ‘non-essential services’ construction sites, inclusive of trade union representatives, should be carried out over the next 24 hours and those found to be non-compliant should be closed immediately.”

Ictu said workers in construction “should be made aware that under the Health safety and Welfare at Work ( Act) 2005 they are entitled to remove themselves from any premises that represents a hazard or danger to their health and welfare and they cannot suffer any detriment as a result”.

The letter on Thursday represented a hardening of the position of the trade union movement.

Meanwhile a Construction Industry Federation spokesperson confirmed to The Irish Times on Thursday that it directed all sites to comply with guidelines, and told its members it would have 48 hours to comply, otherwise tougher measures would be imposed.

Every site in the State will now have a designated person responsible for overseeing social distancing. In most instances, the role will be taken over by the person overseeing health and safety on the site.

Karan O’Loughlin, divisional organiser with Siptu, said the Construction Industry Federation should work with unions to identify “problematic sites within 24 hours” and these should be closed by the Health and Safety Authority.

A HSA spokesman said the authority was “aware of concerns in the building sector...especially around social distancing”.

“The authority is continuing to engage with the sector, employees and employers and responding as appropriate to any complaints received in relation to non-adherence to occupational health and safety requirements”.

In a joint statement earlier this week Ictu and the Construction Industry Federation urged companies and their employees to comply with HSE guidance and protect themselves from the Covid-19 virus.

Individual Ictu affiliate unions had previously called for a closure of building site.

On Tuesday the trade union Unite has called for the closure of construction sites throughout the country to try halt the spread of the coronavirus. The union said on Tuesday that adequate social distancing measures could not be maintained on building sites.