August 22: Speaking this evening at a Unite meeting of housing maintenance workers in Belfast, the union’s Regional Coordinating Officer Jackie Pollock said that the current NIHE procurement framework – under which private contractors ‘bid’ for work against a fixed price – has resulted in a significant worsening of workers’ terms and conditions.
The meeting was also due to be addressed by Housing Minister Nelson McCausland
Citing a number of specific cases, Jackie said that the consequences of outsourcing for workers can range from a loss of accrued holiday entitlements to unsafe working conditions, and he expressed particular concern at the manner in which workers are effectively ‘transferred’ between private operators.
Jackie also condemned what he termed a ‘race to the bottom’ which has seen workers laid off and replaced by sub-contractors working at lower rats and without the protection of TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations.
“Unite’s research indicates that the key problem is the procurement framework which requires contractors to bid for work against a fixed price. Although this practice is designed to secure best value from private operators, it has resulted in contractors submitting below-cost and unsustainable prices which can only be maintained by cutting workers’ remuneration.
“In some cases, the end result of such price cutting is the failure of the contractor – with the result that NIHE is forced to step in and offload contracts from one company to another. Where this is not possible, the NIHE has to take workers into employment within the framework of the Direct Labour Organisation.
“In both cases, a practice which was originally intended to enhance efficiency and deliver ‘value for money’ for the public purse has ended up costing the NIHE in terms of financial and organisational outlay, and costing Unite members in terms of workers’ rights.
“Our union is determined to ensure that our public procurement rules start to place workers’ rights centre stage”, Jackie Pollock said.