A 90% tax on banker bonuse: who could object?

Not the Daily Mail.

Who’s scared of the bankers? I mean, it can’t be any worse than Deal or No Deal, surely?

We could get Noel Edmonds on the phone to these guys…

Would he be any worse at it?

Truly the drunks are running of the brewery, the vampires are in charge of the bloodbank, the lunatics have taken over the asylum…

The Morning Star reports:

Labour MP John McFall tore into Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Parliament on Thursday over obscene bonus payments to bankers.

Mr Brown went along to a question and answer session with senior MPs hoping to fob them off with a tame document suggesting a few feeble banking “reforms.”

But the terrier-like Mr McFall made Mr Brown squirm, telling him: “I put it to you, Prime Minister, that the horse has bolted.”

He instanced the average bonus of half a million pounds each for bankers at Goldman Sachs announced just this week.

The West Dunbartonshire MP, who is chairman of the Treasury select committee, protested that the recent £9.6 million pay package for Royal Bank of Scotland chief Stephen Hester “is very similar to Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract at Real Madrid.”

He added: “The City has won. Like Ronaldo, they are running rings around both the government and regulators.”

Mr McFall demanded that Mr Brown must act to make sure that ordinary citizens can “trust the banks” and get a “fair deal from the banking system.”

Pale with tension, Mr Brown could only fall back on his prepared brief as he faced Mr McFall and other members of the Commons liaison committee in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House.

The Prime Minister agreed that “excess payments” to bankers were “unacceptable.”

Then he added weakly: “It is only on the basis of long-term performance that we can guarantee the bonus system.”

He said that an interim review of banking governance published on Thursday recommended that “bonuses and remuneration should be over a five-year period.”

Mr Brown stressed that there also needed to be “proper transparency” and a regulatory system “to take action where necessary.”

Thursday’s review was drawn up by City bigwig Sir David Walker – who was director of Lloyds Bank between 1992 and 1994.

He urged that non-executive directors of banks should be “better informed” and actually attend to company duties a bit more often. He suggested they spend “up to 50 per cent longer” at the bank.

Bonus schemes should include a “significant” deferred element to discourage short-termism, he added.

His wishy-washy report said: “Many boards inadequately understood the type and scale of risks they were running and failed to hold the executive to high standards of sustainable performance.

“Bonus schemes contributed to excessive risk-taking by rewarding short-term performance. And shareholders failed to exercise proper stewardship.”

Mr Brown told the MPs’ committee that Sir David “makes some very clear recommendations which I believe will be adopted.”

Tory MP Edward Leigh asked him whether there was any truth in press reports of plans for 20 per cent cuts in public spending.

Mr Brown dismissed this as “quite ridiculous,” but then added that “there are tough choices that have to be made.”

He said that £9 billion of cuts were being made in back-line public services “so that we can increase spending in front-line services.”

And he confessed that extra spending on the Iraq and Afghan wars had amounted to £14bn.

Let them eat guns!

Total victory as sacked strikers return to work

How outrageous! Workers voting by show of hands to withdraw their labour – no postal ballot, cooling-off period, or legal injunctions.

Democracy in action! For which hundreds of working men were sacked. But no more. The Morning Star reports on this historic victory for working people in this country:

Workers have voted to return to work at a jubilant mass meeting outside the Lindsey oil refinery.

Workers voted to return to work after union officials recommended they accept an agreement thrashed out during the marathon talks last week.

Addressing the hundreds of strikers gathered outside the refinery, GMB shop steward Kenny Ward described the deal as an “unprecedented victory” for trade unions.

The agreement was a “smack in the face for the employers, a realisation that they need to take a step back,” he added.

Yesterday’s vote marked the last act in a bitter dispute embroiling contract workers that led to unofficial strikes at power stations refineries across the country.

The men had taken unofficial action after complaining that 51 employees were being laid off at Lindsey, owned by energy giant Total, while other contractors on the site were hiring staff.

Thousands of workers across Britain came out in sympathy, with as many as 15 sites nationwide taking solidarity action.

Unions involved in the dispute said that their members’ objectives of finding other jobs for the sacked 51 workers, as well as rescinding the dismissal notices sent to 647 employees at the site who were on strike, had been met.

A guarantee of no victimisation against workers across the country who took sympathy action was also secured.

Welcoming the outcome, Unite assistant general secretary Les Bayliss said: “We hope that the lessons learned at Lindsey are not forgotten.

“We look forward to a new chapter of industrial relations in construction.”

The agreement also means that a Unite official has been appointed to represent Lindsey workers on a full-time basis until the end of the project, Mr Bayliss pointed out.

Within minutes of the vote, police had temporarily halted traffic as the workers carrying union banners and flags marched across the road and back on to the site.

Bobbies on the beat – G20 style

“No thanks, we’re not covering this, we see it as just a London story.”

That’s what the BBC said when offered footage of a policeman beating a man to the ground – a man who died of a heart attack shortly after.

This happened at the G20 protests last week -Mr Tomlinson was just walking home from work and was not a demonstrator.

Paul Feldman‘s is the best analysis I’ve seen:

Once again the police have blood on their hands and a cover-up is already well under way. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the video of the gratuitous police attack on bystander Ian Tomlinson during last week’s G20 protests in the City of London, soon after which he collapsed and died.

The police had the area covered from every angle by CCTV and by their own photographers and must have known what happened. Yet the first official statement said that Tomlinson just happened to be found in a side street and that the Met’s brave police were attacked when they went to his assistance!

Sounds familiar? Jean Charles de Menezes, you will recall, was alleged to have leapt over a Tube ticket barrier and was wearing a bulky jacket, clearly trying to evade the police. None of this, naturally enough, turned out to be true. Yet no one was prosecuted for the execution of the Brazilian electrician while he sat reading his newspaper. And you can bet that the same will apply in the case of Tomlinson.

Why? Because the police are always only “doing their duty” in “difficult circumstances”. And what is this higher “duty” that allows them to behave with impunity and do things that ordinary citizens would end up in jail for? The duty in question conferred on the police by the state is to protect the status quo of capitalist society by whatever means are necessary, lawful and otherwise.

The first professional police force in the world was set up first in London in the 1830s and then throughout the rest of the country at a time of major social and political unrest. Workers had demanded and been refused the vote, trade unionists were deported from Dorset for illegally combining and riots were breaking out against the introduction of the workhouse for the unemployed.

The Royal Commission on the Police 1839 reported that the creation of a force throughout the country was a way in which “the constitutional authority of the supreme executive is thus emphatically asserted”. What the commission was talking about was the authority of the state as a whole in relation to maintaining and developing capitalism in terms of private property, as our book Unmasking the State – a rough guide to real democracy elaborates in more detail.

And that’s how the boys in blue have behaved ever since, with the notable exception of the London police strike after World War One when demands for an independent union were ruthlessly crushed. The high command of the state in the shape of senior officers sets the tone with wild statements about a “summer of rage” on the streets and then the unthinking plods are sent into action to do their worst, which they gleefully do. That’s what happened at the Climate Camp in Kent last year and is routine for just about any protest or action that is not some orderly march from point A to point B.

As the economic slump develops, more and more people will act to defend their jobs and their livelihoods. The police are being prepared for this by the sinister and secret Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). This is the organisation that did the Thatcher’s government’s bidding during the miners’ strike, which began 25 years ago. In the course of that dispute, a total of 11,000 miners were arrested, 7,000 injured, eleven people died, and 1,000 men were sacked. More than 100 were jailed.

The present capitalist state is clearly an alienating power that is undemocratic and more or less the plaything of the corporations and banks. The police, together with the army and the spy agencies, are this state’s enforcers and nothing will change their historic role. This should add to the urgency of developing a strategy for creating a new kind of political democracy. This would be founded on co-ownership and control of resources and require the replacement of institutions like the police with new forms of community control.

Millionaire Mandelson picks Tory banker to oversee Royal Mail sell-off

Solomon Hughes reports in the Morning Star:

PETER Mandelson has picked a new post boss. His choice of Donald Brydon as new chairman of Royal Mail shows that, when in doubt, Labour reaches for a banker.

Brydon will get £200,000 a year for his two days a week at Royal Mail. This might seem like a lot to you or me, but he has become used to big money from his long banking career.

Brydon started off with a 14-year stint at Barclays, followed by a job as chief executive of Axa Investment. He still sits on Axa’s board, although he stepped down as CEO in 2002.

He has always been an outspoken banker, but unfortunately spent a lot of time getting it wrong in a loud voice.

In 2003, leading investor Warren Buffet was predicting that complex financial derivatives were “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Buffet is not a radical – he is one of the world’s richest men, equally happy helping Arnold Schwarzenegger or Barack Obama.

But when Brydon heard Buffet’s warnings, he felt the urge to speak out. He seems to have been particularly worried that criticism of the financial system had come from within, from a businessman like Buffet.

Brydon chose to respond at a joint conference of British and US bankers. “We all need to be on guard lest regulations stifle initiatives in the retail application of derivatives,” he warned.

With his help, the meeting turned out to be something of an anti-Buffet rally, with other speakers denouncing Buffet as “frustrated.” As it turned out, Buffet was right and Brydon was wrong.

Brydon also felt the need to stand with then US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan against the critics of derivatives.

In 2003, Brydon claimed that, “as investor confidence has been rocked so the importance of risk mitigation instruments such as derivatives has increased.”

But derivatives actually added to the instability of the system – had they been properly regulated in 2003, we might not be in the mess we are in now.

Brydon’s worries that derivatives might be reined in stemmed from his general broad dislike of regulation.

He was also head of the Financial Services Authority “practitioner panel,” a group of bankers brought in to advise Britain’s financial regulator.

Unfortunately, their voices were heard all too well. The FSA remained deferential to the bankers and failed to stop the financial recklessness that caused the current crisis.

Brydon used his place on the panel as a pulpit from which to attack the “regulatory burden” and argue for the “need to remain vigilant that, in developing regulation, a point of no return is avoided where innovation, flexibility and competition are threatened.”

His own firm Axa showed why tighter regulation should have been imposed. In 2003, Axa Investment boss Brydon argued for less FSA regulation. In 2004, the FSA hit sister firm Axa Sun Life with a record £500,000 fine for misleading customers.

Mandelson described Brydon as “a proven business leader and successful chairman.”

Brydon’s experience certainly extends beyond banking. Unfortunately, he seems to have brought a banker’s mind to his industrial jobs.

He became chairman of high-tech medical firm Amersham and sold the company to US giant GE. He then became chairman of engineering firm Smiths Industries and promptly sold off its aerospace arm, again to GE.

The Independent was driven to say: “The former fund manager seems to be developing something of a knack for selling British publicly quoted assets at supercharged prices to overseas concerns.”

Subpostmasters and posties will not be reassured by a new boss who loves to flog things off.

Like many new Labour appointments, Brydon is also a longstanding Tory. As a student, he was president of the Edinburgh University Conservatives, befriending fellow Tories such as Malcolm Rifkind.

In 2001, he signed a letter to the press describing Ken Clarke as “the best hope to lead the Conservative Party back to government and create the social and economic climate necessary for business to flourish.”

Obviously this is handy, because Ken Clarke is likely to be his boss after the next election.

Unless of course the plans to sell-off our postal service, and other unpopular ideas, are dumped along with slimeballs like Mandelson.

What more evidence do you need? Does this sound like a Labour man to you… the man is a millionaire who helps out his fellow millionaires – to hell with the rest of us. Get this:

The Business Secretary has refused to reveal detailed information about his financial affairs despite the possibility that they could directly influence his ministerial decisions.

Instead, he has declared only that his “financial interests have been transferred into a blind trust”. The contents of the blind trust – which may include shares, properties and other investments – remain secret.

The existence of Lord Mandelson’s blind trust came after the Cabinet Office released a list of minister’s financial interests. The interests are those declared by ministers to Whitehall officials.

It is the first time that the list has been released and only interests “which are, or could reasonably be perceived to be, directly relevant to Ministers’ public duties” have been publicly disclosed.

The Business Secretary is one of five Government ministers to have set up blind trusts. The others are Ben Bradshaw, a health minister; Lord Myners, the City minister; Lord Davies, the trade minister; and Lord Darzi, a health minister.

A further nine ministers, including five members of the Cabinet, also disclosed that their spouses or close relatives are “consultants”. Few details about who they work for are revealed, raising questions about potential conflicts of interests.

Blind trusts have traditionally been set up to allow ministers to put their financial interests at arm’s length. Trustees are appointed to manage the trust and ministers are not supposed to have any role in deciding whether and when investments are bought and sold.

However, the arrangements have been criticised in the past. Tony Blair set up a blind trust after becoming Prime Minister. However, it later emerged that Mr Blair’s wife, Cherie, had directed the trustees to use the trust to buy two flats in Bristol.

Lord Sainsbury, the former science minister, also set up a trust to hold his multi-billion pound stake in Sainsbury’s supermarkets. The shares were not sold while he was a minister.

Officials have conceded that ministers will be aware of the investments held in the trust and that such an arrangement may present a “conflict of interest”.

Last night, it emerged that Gordon Brown revised the ministerial code to remove specific guidance to ministers on blind trusts. The official code of conduct previously warned that ministers with trusts may have to step aside from decisions related to their financial affairs.

The previous code stated: “It should also be remembered that even with a trust the minister could be assumed to know the contents of the portfolio for at least a period after its creation, so the protection a trust offers against a conflict of interest is not complete…In some cases, it may not be possible to devise such a mechanism to avoid actual or perceived conflict of interest.”

All references to blind trusts have been removed from the revised code of conduct drawn up by Mr Brown after becoming Prime Minister.

Westminster insiders have expressed surprise that the Business Secretary, a career politician, is wealthy enough to justify establishing a trust.

Accountants believe that Lord Mandelson must have assets worth at least £500,000 and probably more than £1 million to make it worthwhile setting up a complicated trust. Annual fees must be paid to accountants and lawyers running the trusts.

Mike Warburton, an accountant who runs trusts at Grant Thornton, said: “I suspect the trust is going to be in excess of £1 million or why bother. The concept of a blind trust has always struck me as a bit dubious as you are only going to appoint a trustee who is someone you know pretty well and trust.”

Jerry Hicks, candidate for Unite union leadership, backs wildcat strikes

Jerry Hicks is the only challenger to incumbent general secretary, Derek Simpson, in the contest to lead Unite-Amicus.

Having worked for years at Rolls Royce before being sacked in 2005 for his strong defence of workers’ rights as a trade union activist, he is in touch with the concerns of ordinary members and wants democratic control of the union.

He says, “I believe in elections by the members with officers answerable and accountable to the members. As proof of my commitment to the principle of election of officers I was offered a Full Time Officers Job with the Union in 2003 by Derek Simpson but declined his offer as this would have been an appointment and so against my belief in elections.”

Whilst not backing a break from the Labour party, he promises to ensure support is only given to Labour MPs who back workers’ rights and will scrap the anti-union laws, brought in by the Tories, which criminalise people who fight for their jobs.

He says: “Unite is not only the country’s biggest trade union it’s also the biggest single donator to the Labour Party, having given £11 million of members’ money since 2005. But despite all this and with 100 sponsored MPs, anti trade union legislation is unchanged. Even the most basic right to re-instatement when unfairly dismissed has not been achieved under Derek Simpson’s leadership. Slavish support for the Brown government from our union has to end.”

Whereas Simpson is paid £126,939 with a host of privileges, Jerry promises that if he’s elected he’ll follow the socialist tradition of only being paid the wage of the average skilled worker, not a City fat cat.

Here’s the latest post from Jerry’s blog in which he gives his full support to the striking construction workers who are defying the anti-union laws:

An emergency meeting of the national construction shop stewards forum took place in London as long ago as the 8th January. The meeting discussed the escalating crisis in construction following a series of protests in November and December of last year, over employment rights and also the proposed exclusion of UK workers by foreign companies on power stations and other major UK contracts.

The meeting was originally called for at Newark on the 3rd December following a series of protests at the gates of Staythope Power Station. At the meeting shop stewards voted overwhelmingly to organise a programme of demonstrations toward targeted construction projects within the UK power generation sector.

Shop stewards and trade union activists find it is hard enough as it is to get a job in the industry because of the black listing by the employers. It is a way of reducing their costs and attempting to break union organisation on the major projects.

Rank and file members are preparing for mass disruption on projects throughout the country that refuse to recognise union national agreements. There will be organised demonstrations strikes and mass disruption. We are preparing for a battle to defend our jobs.

Jerry Hicks a candidate in the coming election for General Secretary in the UK’s biggest union Unite-Amicus is supporting the action. He was present at a recent protest at Staythorpe power station where he sustained a fractured leg, having been assaulted by the police.

He said “This should come as no surprise to anyone. The employers have deliberately and actively been looking for ways to exploit cheap labour while covering their eyes and ears to the growing rage of discontent and ignoring all the warning signs, it’s outrageous”,

He went on to say, “To its shame the union leadership failed miserably to grasp the nettle months ago when the dispute was a crisis in the making. The union needs to confront the employers and organise a national campaign for industrial action.”

The employers watch and listen to everything we say and do. If the union does little and says even less they drive the boot in harder and our situation gets worse.

This is not about race or prejudice it is about the exploitation of labour, playing one worker against another. It is about the employers trying to break nationally agreed arrangements and in doing so it is an attack on the union.

Gordon Brown, who at the last Labour party conference said ‘British jobs for British workers’, has created a huge problem all of his own making. He can no longer simply sit on his hands waiting on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, other energy companies are observing what happens next as they seek to further exploit the cheap foreign labour market.

This issue is as a result of the Employers deliberately exploiting a situation, the union leaderships woeful lack of response and Browns pronouncement, Now they act like the like the three monkeys. Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.

Banksters are tax-dodgers

The TUC is calling on the govt to make the banks it owns come clean on their tax dodging activities.

(Come clean! What chance the new Met Commissioner floods the City with cops to nab the corporate crooks who have plunged us into recession?)

Richard Murphy, tax expert and blogger, carried out the research…

Lloyds TSB, RBS, HSBC and Barclays have between them well over a thousand subsidiary companies (1,207) incorporated in tax havens. The most popular location is the notorious tax haven of the Cayman Islands with 262 companies, Jersey is second, with 170 companies. HBOS is not included as it has not published a list of its subsidiary companies for 2006, 2007 or 2008 in either its annual report or its Companies House return, in apparent breach of company law.

Not every subsidiary located in a tax haven or financial secrecy jurisdiction will necessarily be used for tax avoidance, says the TUC analysis. Some may be simply providing banking services to the local population and business community of countries such as Ireland – or have particular commercial links to countries such as HSBC’s ties to Hong Kong.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘The taxpayer is now propping up Britain’s banks, either directly or indirectly. Even those who have not had direct bail-outs now trade with an implicit guarantee from the Government. The irresponsible behaviour of banks here and abroad is the biggest cause of the recession.

‘Yet even those who come cap in hand to the taxpayer and Bank of England, continue to do business in tax havens. This raises questions about whether part of the objective is avoiding paying a fair rate of tax to the UK – a tax gap that has to be made up by the rest of us.

‘We cannot know the extent of these activities. Indeed one of the main attractions of tax havens is their secrecy. There is no suggestion that anyone has broken any tax laws, but now banks have public stakes or trade with the knowledge that the taxpayer stands ready to bail them out, the taxpayer has a right to know the full extent of bank activities and liabilities across the world.

‘We should know where banks undertake their activities, where they record their profits and where they pay their taxes. Country-by-country reporting of their activities is essential if we, the UK taxpayers, are to know the risk we are under-writing.

‘Voters are increasingly angry at the banks, who they rightly think must take a large share of the blame for the jobs and homes that will be lost in this recession. The Government should set up a tough public inquiry into why our financial system came so close to collapse – and it should investigate the full extent of their tax avoidance.’

Recession no excuse for construction safety cuts

Along with soft-touch “regulation” in the financial sector, New Labour has championed self-policing in other sectors of the economy – most lethally, in construction.

With the government accelerating public works projects and becoming a big fish as private construction shrinks, there’s an opportunity to regulate the industry.

Alan Ritchie, the general secretary of UCATT, writes in Tribune:

End confusion and chaos in construction

LAST April, Sonny Holland, a 20-year-old “apprentice” scaffolder, fell to his death while at work. His death was a chilling example of everything wrong with the construction industry. Despite being described as an apprentice, Sonny was not being formally trained. He was officially working as self-employed – a ridiculous situation for a so-called apprentice. After he was killed, the firm he worked for went into liquidation in an attempt to avoid its liabilities and then established a “new” company.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Sonny’s death is not that it was unusual, but all too common. In the past two years there have been just over 150 construction deaths – an average of six a month. It says much about the media’s view of the expendable nature of construction workers that the vast majority of these deaths barely received a mention. If there is any reduction in the next annual fatality figures, it will be due to a combination of luck and less available work due to the economic downturn.

My union, UCATT, fears the recession could actually make construction sites more dangerous in the medium term. Much of the industry has a macho culture that only pays lip service to health and safety. When times are tight, safety is first to be cut. With thousands of construction workers losing their jobs, those still employed are even less likely to refuse to perform a dangerous task, for fear of being given their cards and told there are plenty of others who will work without complaint.

Despite these problems, there is a very real opportunity for major improvements in health and safety in general and the construction industry in particular. Two major initiatives were announced shortly before Christmas.

They are the Health and Safety Executive’s launch of a consultation on a new strategy and the Government’s announcement of an inquiry into the high number of construction deaths, chaired by Rita Donaghy, the former head of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

In recent years , the HSE has suffered a bad press. The recurring refrain from the right-wing media – of health and safety legislation “gone mad” – has distorted the real story about what is wrong with the organisation responsible for keeping us safe at work.

Since 2002, the HSE has suffered year-on-year real term cuts in resources. This has led to a reduction in the number of frontline inspectors and fewer inspections. In the construction industry, there has been a 42 per cent decline in the issuing of enforcement notices and a 30 per cent reduction in prohibition notices.

The reduction in safety notices is not because sites are safer. When the HSE scrapes together the resources for a targeted blitz of construction sites, at least 75 per cent of those visited are found to be breaking health and safety laws. Many are so unsafe they are shut down immediately. Yet so slim are the HSE’s resources that these blitzes, which cover a tiny fraction of the industry, are becoming more infrequent and visiting a smaller number of sites.

Even more disturbing are the low level of prosecutions following a construction worker’s death. Convictions rates have fallen to just 30 per cent. This is put into perspective by the HSE’s admission that management failure is a factor in more than 70 per cent of fatalities.

Construction is the most dangerous industry in Britain, but a similar pattern of a reduction in safety enforcement can be seen in other sectors, particularly agriculture.

The HSE is under the misapprehension that safety will not improve through an increase in inspectors, inspections and prosecutions.

Instead it is the responsibility of industries to regulate themselves. This dangerous nonsense would be funny if it was not so serious.

In a highly casualised industry such as construction, the only way to keep the many rogue employers in line is by the constant threat of prosecution. Sending them glossy leaflets asking them to be more safety aware is a waste of time and money.

There has been a growing awareness of the failure of the self-regulation throughout the labour movement. Last September, the TUC Congress unanimously backed a UCATT motion opposing self-regulation at the HSE and mandating all TUC-nominated representatives to campaign against it.

That the HSE is now consulting on a new strategy gives the labour movement an opportunity to have a say. This is vital, as the HSE document produced to launch the consultation is so bland and non-specific. It is essential that as many people as possible attend the road shows planned for this month and contact the HSE calling for a greater number of inspectors, more inspections and greater enforcement. Further details of how to get involved can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/strategy

If we do not give clear direction to the HSE, then business – obsessed by so-called red tape and “flexibility” – will use try to dilute safety at work still further.

The Government’s inquiry into construction was created because of UCATT’s lobbying, to which ministers finally conceded as part of last year’s Warwick agreement between Labour and the unions.

The inquiry must get to grips with the dark underbelly of the construction industry. If it has the courage, it will take some far-reaching decisions to change the way the industry operates. It must examine the highly casualised nature of construction. People are able to walk onto a site and start work immediately with no checks on whether they know what they are doing and whether they are a danger to themselves or others. Such laxness can have tragic consequences. In January 2007, Zbigniew Swirzynski was killed on his first day on a site in central Liverpool when the jib of a tower crane fell off. A lack of paperwork meant it was several weeks before his family in Poland was informed.

Casualisation in construction is made worse by bogus self-employment. Rather than employ workers directly, companies opt to use bogus self-employment via the Government’s Construction Industry Scheme, a unique stand-alone tax scheme. More than 400,000 workers are officially classified as self-employed while having all the characteristics of an employee.

They are placed at greater danger because they lack employment rights and can be fired at a moment’s notice. Sites using bogus self-employment are almost exclusively unorganised and do not have safety representatives. A well-organised site with independent safety representatives can reduce accidents by 30 per cent.

Is there another industry where the major players do not employ their own workforce? It is the norm in construction. The big household names barely employ a single construction worker.

Work is performed by sub-contractors, who then further sub-contract the work. On a large site, it is perfectly possible to have a dozen companies all working at the same time. Chaos and confusion reign. Even if intentions are good, safety messages are lost and unnecessary accidents occur.

Fragmentation in the industry has accelerated in recent years due to the rise of employment agencies and gangmasters. Workers of widely varying abilities are placed on sites without competency checks being made. UCATT has campaigned for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to be extended to the construction industry in order to improve health and safety. Sadly, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform rejected our proposals.

The inquiry should examine the arguments in favour of introducing directors’ duties. This would require companies to nominate a director responsible for health and safety. If someone died as a result of flagrant breaches of health and safety, there would be the possibility of a director going to jail. The first time a director was filmed being led from their office in handcuffs, the vast majority of the industry would swiftly get their act in order.

This year could see the beginning of a huge improvement in protection at work and a subsequent reduction in deaths. We need those writing the new HSE strategy and conducting the construction safety inquiry to have the courage to challenge vested interests, ask difficult questions and reach brave conclusions.

We cannot afford another false dawn or a report that is a damp squib. Workers’ safety is simply too important.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.