NIHE: Unite briefs Social Development Committee on public procurement concerns

rooftopsBriefing document presented to Committee outlines abuses uncovered by union

Workers treated like ‘pawns on NIHE’s procurement chessboard’

October 3rd: Trade union Unite today briefed the NI Assembly Committee on Social Development on Unite’s concerns regarding the NIHE’s Procurement Framework.

The briefing document presented by Unite to the Committee outlines a number of abuses uncovered by the union, and includes a series of recommendations designed to counter what Unite has termed a race to the bottom which is ‘bad for workers, bad for tenants and bad for the NIHE’. 

Commenting, the union’s Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly said:  “Unite’s view is that the public sector is best placed to deliver services such as housing maintenance. However, as matters stand the procurement process must fulfil three basic criteria: contract sustainability, value for money for the taxpayer, and decent pay and conditions for employees.

“The current procurement process fails on all three counts. 

“Today, Unite highlighted cases where, after winning very lucrative maintenance contracts – and despite being bound by Transfer of Undertakings legislation – NIHE contractors have lost no time in attempting to shed employees in order to replace them with what Unite regards as ‘bogus’ self-employed workers. 

“We show how employees have been shuttled between NIHE contractors like pawns on NIHE’s procurement chessboard, sometimes following the collapse of a contractor. 

“In the document presented to the Committee today, Unite has also highlighted flagrant breaches of health and safety regulations, including cases where employees have been required to work with asbestos without appropriate safety protection or training.

“The current process in which companies bid against a low fixed price has encouraged a race to the bottom which is bad for workers, bad for tenants and bad for the NIHE.  The recommendations which Unite presented to the committee today are designed to improve standards and safeguard labour rights”, Mr Kelly concluded.

Below are the recommendations made by Unite:

Recommendation 1: Health and Safety. Require that all employees working on contracts (including those employed by sub-contractors) hold Construction Specialist Register (CSR) cards; all workers are provided appropriate health and safety training upon induction; companies holding public procurement contracts are regularly audited for compliance with basic health and safety; and a Health & Safety Compliance panel is established including Trade Union representation.

Recommendation 2: Apprenticeships. Require that all contracts offered for response maintenance include a provision for a minimum of no less than 10% Apprenticeships to total employment; and, all apprentices to be directly employed from day one by contracting companies, managed by an appropriately experienced and qualified supervisor at all times and provided with Health & Safety training upon induction.

Recommendation 3: Associated Pay Rates. Require that those employed by companies successful in winning public procurement contracts are paid at least standard industrial associated pay rates, e.g. those set by the Construction Industry Joint Council, Joint Industry Board, etc.

Recommendation 4: Direct Employment. Require that contractors be required to employ at least 75% of their labour force directly (as opposed to using sub-contractors/self-employed); any specialist sub-contractors they employ are also required to be VAT and Income Tax compliant, fulfil all statutory responsibilities e.g. public and employer liability insurance and provide all lawful pension contributions for employed workers; and that all employees used hold CSR cards.

Recommendation 5: ‘No Black-listing’. Include a mechanism within the NIHE procurement process which will exclude any company ‘black-listing’ trade union activists from competition for public procurement contracts.

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