Raising the question of illegal working in construction
By Edward Hardy, Chief Executive, Considerate Constructors Scheme
One of the key challenges facing the construction industry is ensuring the legitimacy of its workforce. Employing illegal workers isn’t just against the law; there is an undeniable relationship between illegal workers and those subjected to modern slavery.
What everyone is clear about is that it is very damaging for those individuals concerned, and the industry’s image as a whole. This can lead to widespread reputational damage at a time where portraying the industry in a very positive light is critical to attracting and retaining skilled workers to meet the pipeline of future work.
The statistics speak for themselves: the National Crime Agency has pinpointed the construction sector as the sixth most prevalent for labour exploitation; and in 2013 the government pinpointed 53 “potential victims of modern slavery” within the industry.
As the Government’s recent actions have demonstrated – with Operation Magnify starting last autumn and the Modern Slavery Act being applied from 1 April 2016 – there is growing pressure on the Industry to make sure that all of the checks and balances are in place to assess and monitor their workforce.
But valuing the workforce by ensuring their legitimacy to work shouldn’t just be a ‘kneejerk’ reaction to the Government’s latest actions – it should be part of the day-in, day-out routine of every element of construction activity throughout the UK. To help this become a reality and continually raise standards in this area, the Considerate Constructors Scheme introduced a new question in its Monitors’ Checklist earlier this month; specifically challenging constructors registered with the Scheme on ensure the legitimacy of their workforce:
- How does the site assess and monitor the legitimacy and competency of the workforce?
This question challenges contractors and their supply chains to take greater responsibility for the way they recruit their workforce. It also puts a structure in place encouraging everyone in the supply chain to provide evidence that, as subcontractors, they are making sure this takes place.
By challenging sites to explore how they currently assess and monitor the legitimacy of their workforce, the Scheme believes that in the not-so-distant future, all registered sites, companies and suppliers will have a routine in place. This will ensure that when they are questioned by the Monitor, they will provide a ‘standard’ response, intrinsic to their organisation.
The Scheme is in a prime position to effect real change amongst the industry and it is great to see that the CIOB’s CPD module ‘Stamping out illegal working on every site’ includes a question about the new Checklist.
Sites, sub-contractors and suppliers should establish a transparent culture whereby workers feel able to highlight to management when they have concerns over colleagues.
The recent recognition from the Government in how the Scheme is helping to tackle this issue also underlines the impact the Scheme will have. Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said: “Our work to stamp out illegal working involves close collaborative working with lead industry bodies. We are fully supportive of genuine efforts, such as this scheme, to drive compliance with the rules.
“Employers within the construction sector have a crucial and ongoing part to play in helping combat illegal working by ensuring they carry out the straightforward ‘Right to Work’ checks on potential employees.”
As ever, the need to continually drive improvement and progress within the industry means that much more still needs to be done.
While this is the case, it is really important to highlight that there are numerous examples throughout the Industry of tremendous improvements which have been made over the last decade in how construction values its workforce. Those registered with the Scheme [see Best Practice Hub for examples] have made significant progress in terms of establishing a supporting and caring working environment.
- Providing a workplace where everyone is respected, treated fairly, encouraged and supported.
- Identifying personal development needs and promoting training.
- Caring for the health and wellbeing of the workforce.
- Providing and maintaining high standards of welfare.
Now is the time to tackle illegal working on sites. There has never been a better moment for the industry to rise to the challenge and ensure that checks for workers’ legitimacy become firmly entrenched within all construction activity across the UK; once again underlining that UK construction is at the very forefront of best practice.
Edward Hardy, is the Chief Executive of the Considerate Constructors Scheme
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