HS2 workers Euston protest

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Construction workers demonstrate at Euston Station last Friday against the treatment of those working on HS2

CONSTRUCTION workers held a demonstration at the troubled HS2, Costain/Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV) at Euston Station in central London last Friday, as concerns grow about the treatment of the workforce.

The Unite members, some of whom were dressed as skeletons, were asking the question: ‘What other skeletons has CSJV got in its closet?’

Unite has unearthed that workers:

  • Are being underpaid overtime
  • Have the wrong holiday entitlement
  • Are forced to operate via umbrella companies
  • Are not covered for death and accident benefits.

Workers’ detriment

All of these issues are clearly set out in a framework agreement between HS2 and trade unions, but Costain/Skanska has been unable or unwilling to properly implement it, to the detriment of the workers.

Unite’s ability to identify other skeletons in Costain/Skanska’s closet is being limited because the CSJV has barred Unite from freely speaking to workers in the canteen during breaks.

Unite barred from site

CSJV has claimed that the reason Unite has been barred from the site is because workers are too traumatised after removing centuries-old human remains from the St James Gardens area, and need to ‘decompress’ rather than speak to a Unite official about workplace issues.

Rather than allow Unite free access to speak to workers in the canteen, CSJV has instead offered to provide a separate room where workers can arrange to meet with a union official.

This offer is a clear breach of the industrial agreement and the HS2 framework agreement, Unite has also found this would be under the noses of management – and with Skanska and Costain both guilty of blacklisting construction workers, Unite has rejected the proposal.

Regular protests

Unite has been holding regular protests outside the site and has recruited a substantial number of workers to the union.

Troubled site

Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: ‘Every time Unite speaks to workers on this troubled site it finds more skeletons bursting out of the closet.

‘Basic employment rights are being routinely flouted and CSJV has been supine in its indifference to the exploitation being faced by workers on its sites.

‘Unite was given an undertaking by Skanska/Costain’s project director that the correct overtime premiums would be applied and such payments would be backdated.

‘It now appears that this was not the truth, and it is difficult to see how the joint venture can retain any credibility on this project.

‘It is disturbing to think what other vital components of the project are also being treated with the same degree of contempt.

‘If workers are genuinely traumatised by their experiences then it is absolutely imperative that they receive help and assistance from Unite, in order to prevent further problems developing.

‘The morale of the workforce is being seriously affected by the mistreatment on the site, which is likely to be severely affecting productivity.’

Underpaid overtime

The biggest sore for workers is the issue of underpaid overtime which is costing many of the affected workers over £100 a week.

Unite previously discovered that labour supply company Bowercross Construction Ltd was not paying the correct overtime rates.

However, after paying the correct rates to around 200 affected workers for a fortnight, Bowercross has since reverted to underpaying overtime rates, wrongly stating it had discovered a ‘loophole’ which allowed it to do so.

Unite understands that the decision to stop paying the correct overtime rates was with the connivance and support of Costain/Skanska.

Last month, the New Economic Foundation published a report calling for HS2 to be scrapped.

Business owners from Birmingham – who are still waiting for payment from HS2 Ltd – joined a delegation of residents from Buckinghamshire outside the HS2 Ltd headquarters in Birmingham last week.

The residents delivered a petition asking HS2 Ltd CEO Mark Thurston to explain why he intends to start work and destroy 200 acres near the village of Steeple Claydon, before the HS2 project has even been given notice to proceed by government.

They were joined in solidarity by businesses owners from Birmingham who have had their businesses seized by HS2 Ltd, without being paid.

The study from the New Economics Foundation found that if HS2, phase one of which has yet to receive ‘Notice to Proceed’ from government, would widen the North-South divide and that the prime beneficiaries would be the richest in society.

The report concluded that the £56bn budget would be better spent on upgrading the rest of the rail network and small-scale local projects as part of a comprehensive rail strategy.

Penny Gaines, Chair of Stop HS2, responded: ‘The shocking truth is that, even if you only look at what HS2 Ltd themselves say, HS2 won’t meet the grandiose promises of politicians.

‘The NEF researchers have carefully looked at the evidence and the HS2 Ltd documents, and found exactly the same things as Stop HS2 has since day one.

‘Politicians talk about rebalancing the economy, but the unadulterated data shows HS2 will only exacerbate regional imbalances.

‘HS2 will not help ordinary working people in their everyday commutes.

‘Like the NEF have found, it’s a fast train for fat cats, and won’t help the crush hour conditions faced by many people across the country.

‘We call on politicians of all colours to look at the evidence and scrap HS2, so that the enormous budget can be used on the services used by ordinary people all across the country.’

Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin added: ‘Since day one, we have always said HS2 is nothing more than a fast train for fat cats, and that in line with every single piece of international evidence, far from being a magic wand to cure the North-South divide, it would make it worse and reinforce the economic dominance of London.

‘Whilst some proponents pretend that construction has already started on HS2, it has still not received notice to proceed from government.

‘So whilst this white elephant can still be put out of its misery, HS2 Ltd themselves seem determined to cause as much damage and – besides paying people for their land and businesses – spend as much money as possible to try and convince politicians it is too late to realise the error of their ways.’