Coronavirus: Unite calls for closure of construction sites

Trade union says proper social distancing cannot be maintained on sites

Unite said “No worker should be forced to choose between health or hardship”. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty

Unite said “No worker should be forced to choose between health or hardship”. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty

 

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.

The union wants workers, including those who it categorised as “bogus self employed in the construction sector “ to be covered by a wage subsidy scheme proposed by the trade union movement which would see the Government pay about 75 per cent of employee’s wages up to a cap equivalent of €40,000 per year over the coming months.

Unite’s Regional Officer for Construction Tom Fitzgerald said:

“It has become increasingly clear to our members, who work on sites throughout the country, that adequate social distancing cannot be maintained either on site or, in many cases, when travelling to and from sites.

Susceptible

“The result is that approximately 150,000 construction workers are not only themselves susceptible to the spread of Covid-19, but are also at risk of bringing the virus back home to their families and communities – further increasing the strain on our health services.”

“Last night’s online meeting of the national construction branch (of Unite) , attended by senior reps with hundreds of years’ experience between them, heard numerous concrete example of where social distancing cannot be maintained.”

Mr Fitzgerald said Unite was concerned that as the situation escalated, “responsible employers may close sites and find themselves effectively undercut by irresponsible employers whose sites remain open, putting workers and the general public at risk”.

“We are therefore calling on the Government to immediately close all sites, and to ensure that all construction workers – including so-called bogus self-employed workers in sub-contracting chains – are included in a wage compensation scheme such as that proposed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This virus does not distinguish between workers on different types of contracts, and neither should the Government’s response: all workers on a site must be presumed to be employed.”

“No worker should be forced to choose between health or hardship.”

Separately the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) in a joint statement on Tuesday urged construction companies, industry companies and their employees to comply with HSE guidance on protecting themselves from the Covid-19 virus.

Social distancing

Ictu general secretary Patricia King said: “Essentially workers should adhere to social distancing guidelines, carry out regular hand washing and use gloves and masks if possible to help contain the spread of the virus in the workplace.

“The HSE has issued guidelines on the coronavirus and we recommend that this guidance is adhered to by workers in the construction industry. Congress will continue to watch the situation closely.”

Tom Parlon, director general of the CIF said social distancing and compliance with HSE guidance on Covid-19 were now critical to the continuation of the construction industry and for the nation.

“We urge contractors and workers to work together to enforce social distancing regardless of any impacts on productivity or deadlines.”

“The CIF is also asking companies to remind workers that social distancing is critical off-site and on the way to the site. Workers should not travel in groups and while visiting local businesses (shops, etc.) must maintain the 1-2 metre distance guideline. Construction workers are to be commended for continuing to operate safely as they deliver essential projects that enable essential services including emergency health facilities, sewerage, electricity, power, data and water, all critical to society.”

Waste

Architecture and planning expert Orla Hegarty has called on the construction industry to hand over to the HSE any personal protective equipment (PPE) they have.

It was a “waste” of PPE to give them to construction workers when they are needed by the HSE she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show.

“It’s time to close the building sites. People are being put at risk,” she added.

“The issue here is money.”

Ms Hegarty acknowledged that some sites are important such as utilities.