Unite alleges that Costain Skanska JV (CSjv) is in breach of an industrial relations agreement to which HS2 Ltd committed its contractors, by denying workers direct employment and instead relying on agency staff.
The union also says that it is being denied access to engage with the workforce.
“Construction workers, working on the CSjv section of the project are being routinely denied direct employment and forced to operate via exploitative payroll and umbrella companies,” Unite said. “This way of employing workers simply adds to the cost as the payroll/umbrella company has to be paid, in most cases this results in a deduction from the workers’ wages or a lower rate of pay.”
CSjv is currently carrying out the southern area enabling works for HS2, mostly in the Euston area. It says that all of its workers have full employment rights and that it is keen to sit down with the union to discuss grievances.
But Unite says that it has not been allowed access to the workforce. “The Costain-Skanska Joint Venture has created a culture of fear and secrecy on the project by banning Unite from having normal access to the workforce during their breaks. This policy effectively ensures workers are unable to raise concerns about, safety, pay, conditions, welfare facilities, blacklisting and bullying,” it claims. “This fear is reinforced by the use of an umbrella company which is designed to remove or reduce the workers’ rights.”
Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “HS2 is one of the most high profile construction projects in the UK and there is an agreement between the unions and HS2 that outlaws these types of sharp practices. It would be reasonable to expect that HS2’s management, would want to ensure that first class workers’ rights exist on this project and as a minimum uphold the agreement they signed.
“HS2 need to take action against the likes of CSjv, who have made it clear to me that they care little for their clients wishes and even less for workers’ rights.
“By barring union officials from speaking to workers during their breaks the question needs to be asked what have the management of CSjv got to hide? I suspect quite a bit from the reports I am receiving.
“CSjv’s reliance on labour supplier Bowercross, which doesn’t have any workers, is the construction industry’s equivalent of awarding a cross channel ferry contract to a company without any ships, who in their right mind would do that.
“It is reprehensible that the Costain-Skanska Joint Venture sees nothing wrong with workers being routinely exploited via umbrella companies on this landmark project. It is not as if this is going on behind their back, they are openly supportive of Bowercross and their practices.
“In an industry which still has the stench of blacklisting hanging over it and none more so than Skanska who were exposed as one of the biggest blacklisting companies in the United Kingdom, it is essential to allow workers to speak freely to union officials, this is the only way to ensure that dangerous and dishonest practices don’t flourish and fester.
“Today is the start of our campaign and those companies that spent decades destroying the lives of construction workers with their blacklist and unsafe practices need to learn that those days are over, Unite is not going away.”
However Costain Skanska JV rebutted Unite's allegations. A spokesperson said: "Bowercross Construction Limited (BCL), is one of the CSjv’s approved suppliers, who provide labour to some of our sites on the High Speed Two enabling works programme. All BCL workers on our programme are paid via PAYE and receive full employment rights, which include a minimum of the London Living Wage, EU holiday and sick pay and welfare benefits. CSjv are keen to meet with Unite to discuss their concerns and have previously offered opportunities for them to meet our workers."
An HS2 Ltd spokesperson added: “We have an agreement with the TUC demonstrating our commitment to working with the trade unions. By working together, we will build the new high-speed railway safely and create a diverse, inclusive and skilled workforce.”