Construction News

Tue July 27 2021

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Union disses flexible working movement

25 Jun While major contractors are embracing flexible working to improve the wellbeing of employees, construction's trade union says the real problem is pay rates and long hours.

The Timewise study concluded that flexible working can improve the life of all construction site workers
The Timewise study concluded that flexible working can improve the life of all construction site workers

The Unite union does not believe flexible working will ever be accessible to the majority of construction workers, who are condemned to work long hours for inadequate pay.

This week a Build UK sponsored project concluded that flexible working could be made to work on construction sites. BAM Construct, BAM Nuttall, Willmott Dixon and Skanska adopted flexible working practice on test sites for their site workers – including all subcontractors on site in some cases. They found that there were no downsides, no extra costs or delays, and definite upsides to the work-life balance of employees. [See our previous report here.]

Timewise director Emma Stewart shared details with the Re:Construction podcast this week, explaining that different models of flexible working were adopted for different sites, depending on what the workers on site felt they wanted or needed, and what was practical to implement. This pilot proved resoundingly that flexible working can work even on construction sites.

Timewise is now working with Multiplex, Balfour Beatty and Sir Robert McAlpine to help them develop flexible working policies, she disclosed.

Also this week Wates revealed that it was embracing flexible working, with all new jobs advertised as flexible and a fully flexible workforce by 2025.

Construction’s trade union, Unite, is clearly sceptical.

It said that it recognises that flexible working is beneficial for workers who can get it but long hours was a much bigger factor in preventing workers from enjoying a decent work life balance.

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Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “Of course Unite recognises the benefits of flexible working but for the vast majority of those in the construction industry such policies are not relevant or applicable. Site workers in construction companies' contract supply chains will either not be eligible for flexible working schemes or can’t use them as they have to be at work at set times.

“If construction is truly serious about improving the work life balance of its entire workforce then it must tackle the long hours culture.

“In order for such a policy to be successful it needs to address pay rates and the tenure of workers.

“The failure of employers to agree an appropriate pay structure, combined with a hire and fire approach for each job, results in workers feeling forced to work all hours they possibly can, as they never know when the next job will begin and what rates of pay they can obtain.

“If the industry is serious about tackling the long hours culture then it should seriously look at how jobs are programmed, with a view to removing the reliance on Saturday working. Weekend working should only be undertaken when a task cannot be carried out in the week or it is required to bring the job back on programme.

“Construction workers should have the same rights to be able to spend time with their loved ones, to relax and recover from seriously demanding work, as the rest of society. For far too many construction workers long hours is a constant grim reality that has to be endured and this must change if the industry is ever going to become more attractive to a younger more diverse workforce.”

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