Productivity or profitability – why are UK construction workers excluded from new projects?

I’ve just seen Pat McFadden, the New Labour employment minister, argue that “productivity” might be a reason why UK-based engineering construction contractors can’t win new contracts.

This is bollocks, frankly.

The EU Posting of Workers Directive, following decisions made by the European Court of (in)Justice, allows foreign firms that win contracts to import workers on the minimum wage, undercutting the going rate. Even if a similar rate is paid, the employers can claw this money back by deductions for accommodation and transport.

Construction workers based in the UK are being excluded not because they are lazy and lack skills – but because they would have to be paid the going rate. It’s known as “social dumping” and it’s all about squeezing profits out of workers.

The dispute at Lindsay oil refinery has been won – by both the strikers there and those across the UK who walked out in solidarity, defying the anti-union laws – but the practice continues in the sector. And so, protests continue at Staythorpe power station, and at other sites where UK workers are excluded for applying for new jobs.

As the Morning Star reports, the Lindsay strikers have been pledging their support:

Lindsey workers join Staythorpe strikers
(Friday 06 February 2009)
by PAUL HASTE Industrial Reporter

CONSTRUCTION workers on strike at Staythorpe power station near Nottingham were joined on Friday by hundreds of flying pickets from the Lindsey oil refinery.

The 300 Staythorpe workers walked out on unofficial strike last Monday after months of protests against construction firm Alstom’s decision to contract out work to non-union companies.

Alstom is building a gas-fired power station that engineering union Unite estimates needs 850 workers to complete. The union accused the huge corporation, which raked in more than £462 million in profits last year, of trying to undercut employees’ wages by bringing in two subcontractors.

Unite branch secretary David Smeeton explained that the subcontractors “planned to bring in 800 foreign workers and refuse to even consider local workers for the job.

“Yet there are hundreds of local people who could work. We built the last two power stations here,” he said.

The flying pickets from Lindsey, in nearby Lincolnshire, had walked out on unofficial strike in their own dispute over a contractor’s unfair hiring practices last week.

The 400 workers are set to return to work on Monday after winning the creation of more than 100 new jobs at the oil refinery, but many of them descended on Staythorpe on Friday, braving freezing weather conditions to show solidarity with the power station workers.

Joining the solidarity picket, Unite shop steward Kenny Ward, who was one of the leading protestors in the Lindsey dispute, pointed out that “these problems at Staythorpe and at Lindsey are caused by judges and bosses, not foreign workers.”

He added that the government’s acceptance of European laws that allow employers to use workers from one country to undercut the wages of workers in another was a “disgrace.

“If the Labour Party doesn’t want to fight for workers anymore, then workers will have to fight for themselves,” he stressed.

“Our wildcat strike at the refinery and the solidarity that workers all over Britain gave us has shown that it is possible to fight back,” he insisted.

Lindsey strike committee member Tony Ryan added that the Staythorpe workers could count on the same solidarity that had helped win the fight for the refinery workers.

“This will continue. This is only the start of the fight for us lads,” he declared.

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