Employers in the construction industry should be allowed to use positive discrimination to improve diversity in their workforce, the head of the industry’s main union has said.
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of Ucatt, said it was vital that more ethnic minorities and women were recruited to tackle chronic skills shortages – about 88,000 new entrants a year are needed to meet demand.
Construction has traditionally been seen as a white, male-dominated industry. Less than 10% of the 2.2 million-strong workforce is female, and ethnic minorities accounted for only 3% of the workforce in 2006.
“As a trade union, we would like to see more women and ethnic minorities in the industry,” Ritchie said. “How are we going to get contractors on board, working to bring more ethnic minority and female workers into the industry? I don’t think employers are doing enough.”
Ritchie said he favoured the use of US-style ‘affirmative action’ contract compliance, where minorities are fast-tracked into companies working on government-funded projects.
“I’ve looked at these contracts in the US where there is a bias towards ethnic minorities and it has been successful,” he said. “If we’re looking to change our industry then I believe this could be the key.”