Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail has written to secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock calling for construction workers – many of whom have worked through the lockdown or are being brought out of furlough early – to be offered testing for Covid-19.
Gail Cartmail said that including construction workers in the government’s testing regime was “one of a number of measures necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19”, particularly given the dilution of social distancing guidance for building sites.
She said: “Many construction workers continued to work through the lockdown and furloughed workers are being phased back ahead of other sectors. The recently relaxed guidance from the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) on social distancing whilst at work is undermining efforts to get agreement on safe working practices.
“Operating advice for building sites based on CLC guidance states that construction workers can work face to face within two metres of each other as long as it is for ‘15 minutes or less where possible’.
“Unite believes with good practice social distancing can be maintained for most tasks and where this is not possible the task should not be undertaken. However, to date there is evidence of confusion and if the 15-minute relaxation persists it will heighten concerns about spreading Covid-19 into communities and workers’ homes.
“There are financial pressures bearing down on workers to go back to work as more than 50% of all construction workers are self-employed. Unite lobbied and won financial support for self-employed construction workers but the long delay in accessing support is a real issue that many are grappling with.
“Unite believes construction workers should be included within the sectors designated for Covid-19 testing as one of a number of measures necessary to prevent the spread.”
She concluded: “Government needs to understand that construction workers have travelled to and from work amongst these other key workers and will continue to do so. For testing to be effective within the key worker group construction workers must be included.”