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Wed November 20 2019

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Costain/Skanska's HS2 workers 'still being short-changed'

17 Apr The Costain/Skanska joint venture (CSjv) delivering enabling works for the HS2 rail project appears to be unable to control its labour suppliers.

Costain Skanska jv is carrying out enabling works for the new HS2 London terminus at Euston
Costain Skanska jv is carrying out enabling works for the new HS2 London terminus at Euston

Unite, the construction union, has been campaigning for workers on CSjv sites to get the pay and contract conditions to which they are entitled.

The union estimates that the workforce is owed a total in excess of £1m in underpaid overtime.

CSjv last month promised to sort it out ‘immediately’ but, according to Unite, it has still not happened.

Last month Unite blew the whistle on how labour supplier Bowercross Construction Ltd, which supplies workers CSJV for enabling work on the HS2 project at Euston, was not paying workers the correct overtime rates, which on average was costing workers over £100 a week. It was also denying workers their full holiday entitlement.

Following Unite’s revelation, CSjv issued a statement promising that the correct rates would now be paid. It said: “We have looked into Unite’s report concerning the industry agreement rate for overtime and weekend duty, as well as holiday entitlement. The company concerned has been instructed to remedy this with immediate effect so that we meet our required standards.”

[See our previous reports here and here.]

Following a meeting with CSjv project director Peter Jones, Unite representatives were assured that Bowercross was already in receipt of the money to pay the workforce the correct overtime rates and that all workers would receive back pay for the money they had been underpaid.

However, according to Unite, Bowercross paid the correct overtime rates for just two weeks before reneging, telling the workers that it had found a ‘loophole’ in the relevant agreement, which meant that it no longer had to pay overtime rates stipulated by the Construction Industry Joint Council (CIJC),

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Unite said it had tried and failed to identify any such loophole. It said that it was now organising to challenge this decision industrially and planned appropriate legal action if an early resolution to the issue cannot be found.

Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “Workers on HS2 are being treated with contempt. HS2 should be the premier construction project in the UK but the contractors and subbies on the project can’t or won’t pay the workers correct rates of pay. It is worrying to think contractors brought onto HS2 by Costain/Skanska are seeking loopholes in order to cut workers’ wages. I dread to think what else is going wrong with this project.

“Unite had assurances from CSjv that the correct overtime rates would be paid and that workers would receive back pay for the money they were owed. CSjv also said that Bowercross had already been paid the money.

“Questions need to be asked about where that money has gone and what action CSJV will take against a subbie who has flagrantly disregarded its wishes.

“It is also imperative that HS2 management step down from their lofty perch and get involved. If this type of industrial dispute is not dealt with in the early stages of this huge project, they are only going to get worse as HS2 develops.”

CSjv confirmed that Bowercross had indeed gone back to its previous terms and conditions but only because these worked out better for employees than industry-standard CIJC terms, it said, not because of any contractual 'loophole'.

A CSjv spokesperson said: “When we became aware of the issue, we committed to investigate and remedy any alleged underpayments.  We found that the employees of one of our subcontractors were receiving  a consolidated hourly rate that ensures their terms are better than they would be under the CIJC agreement. As a result employees have reverted back to their previous terms of employment, which are more beneficial for them”.

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