Site clear up

Employers need to take heed of employment law issues in the construction industry. 

Anne copeland
HR director, construction project managers, Interiors plc

Employers cannot rely just on policies to stay within the law. We have a wider moral responsibility, as the norms we set in our workplaces will surely be translated into society.

If we are to operate successful, profitable businesses we need to attract and retain the best people.  Increasingly, the best people will not tolerate an environment where discriminatory behaviour is acceptable.

Setting standards of behaviour is the approach that we use. Beginning with induction, we set out the behaviours expected of our employees, so that whatever their background or previous working experience they clearly understand not only our policies but also our non-discriminatory culture.

Ownership for these initiatives must come from the top, if our chief executives and managing directors do not have the moral fibre and commercial intelligence to tackle discrimination in our industry, we will forever be wondering why we cannot attract high performers and skilled crafts people. The world has changed, construction must change also, not pay lip service.

We deliver a series of training sessions for our people managers under the title Consequences, these workshops deal with a range of topics including: discrimination; examining positive and negative consequences associated with behaviours; and expressed attitudes.

Exploring discrimination in this way begins to open employees’ minds to other possible views of the world and for them to begin to realise that certain actions, however unintentional, can be discriminatory and therefore damaging and illegal to others.

This raising of awareness is essential for us as the construction sector tends to be dominated by white, middle class males with similar backgrounds, education and life experiences.

The world has changed, construction must change also.

Charles McKeown
Construction chairman, The Federation of Small Businesses

The FSB has 12,000 members in the construction industry. Small businesses make up more than 80 per cent of the industry.

The burden of regulation is chasing many in the construction industry into the black economy. One of the biggest problems is going to be with e-filing.

By 2010, the Inland Revenue wants all businesses to be filing everything electronically.

A recent poll of our members showed that 34 per cent didn’t even own a computer. Come 2010 a lot more people will have computers, but it wont get near 100 per cent.

The government will be making a grant available, but small contractors will still have to buy the computer and be taught how to use it.

Many of them will be busy all day and do not want to be studying at night. The government says an accountant can do it, but this could cost them more than £1,000 a year.

It is true that we cannot progress without computers, but they are not everything and a lot of businesses are being ignored.

The average age in construction is 56 years old. If you are going to get weighed down with regulation, instead of complying with the new rules many people might choose to retire.

Good people are being pushed away from the industry or are being pushed into the black economy. Shortages mean that if someone can do a job tomorrow, then they are no good or another job has been cancelled.

Maria Pilfold
HR executive, George Wimpey UK, and employment tribunal member for London Central.

Health and safety is the company’s first priority and ensuring that overseas workers are fully conversant with all policies and safe practices is critical on site. This may become more important following the  expansion of European Union membership on 1 May.

New site safety initiatives have been introduced to promote understanding, including the introduction of site signage that is pictorial rather than written.

Other areas of impact relate to the definition of ‘workers’ and ’employees’, particularly with regard to the Working Time Regulations. The recent cases relating to payment of holidays to subcontractors has caused considerable confusion throughout the industry. Some will question whether it is more effective to employ direct labour rather than subcontract.

The housebuilding industry continues to be awash with acquisitions and mergers. The 2004 TUPE Reforms (& Amendment to the Acquired Rights Directive) must be a real consideration during any due diligence process.

In the next six months relevant new legislation includes the Employment Agencies Act and the Information and Consultation Directive. The former will make us question the nature of our relationships with suppliers of services. The latter will necessitate a significant change for those players in construction who are not accustomed to formal consultation with their employees. At George Wimpey we will be extending the brief of our elected employee representatives.

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