Unite warns employers cannot be left to regulate themselves
Unions must be central to new safety regime
With just two weeks to go before construction sites open on May 18th, trade union Unite today (Monday) warned that construction companies cannot be left to regulate themselves in respect of measures to halt the spread of Covid-19. Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said that unions must be central to a new statutory safety regime designed to protect the health of workers, their families and communities.
“The Standard Operating Procedures published by the CIF last month only constitute guidelines. Without strict compliance monitoring, our members fear that the employers will treat these procedures as an optional extra, putting profit above the health of workers. It is clear that employers cannot be left to regulate themselves.
“With just two weeks to build ‘Covid-safe’ sites, a number of steps need to be taken to ensure that construction workers feel confident returning to work.
“These include enforced social distancing, all necessary PPE available on an ongoing basis and all necessary sanitary facilities provided. Workers’ temperatures must be monitored on arrival at sites, and provision made for testing of all workers in the construction sector.
“The CIF’s proposed Compliance Officers must be elected by workers, and unions must have a central role in ensuring that their members’ concerns are acted on. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) needs to be given the powers and resources to access all construction sites without notice to ensure that health and safety standards are being adhered to, and must also be authorised to close sites with immediate effect. At the same time, unions must have a right of access to conduct workplace safety checks.
“As Unite pointed out in our recent policy document Hope or Austerity: a Road Map for a Better Fairer Ireland after the Pandemic, guideline or ‘best practice’ procedures will not be enough. These protections must be put on a legal footing, and there must also be severe penalties for any employer found to be breaching the regulations.
“Regardless of site safety measures, construction workers with compromised immune systems, vulnerable family members or without access to childcare must be able to maintain access to state supports, such as the Wage Subsidy Scheme (with existing top ups) and the Covid 19 Pandemic Payment.
“The Covid-19 emergency is not just a health crisis: it is also a confidence crisis. Regulation, transparency and worker involvement are required to build confidence among those returning to work”, Mr Fitzgerald concluded.