UCATT Launches Vulnerable Workers Project

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) will today officially launch the Vulnerable Workers Project at the Hallmark Hotel in Derby. The Vulnerable Workers Project has been devised by UCATT to address concerns that construction workers – particularly apprentices, migrant workers and agency workers – are vulnerable to exploitation and thus regularly forced to work in dangerous environments. In addition to raising awareness of the issue in order to improve the attitudes of both construction workers and their employers, UCATT hopes that the project will help to reduce the number of personal injury claims that result from accidents involving construction workers, many of whom suffer serious injury or even death.

Initially, the Vulnerable Workers Project will aim to reach out to construction workers who are considered to be the most vulnerable. Not only does this include migrant workers, agency workers, young workers and casual workers but also those who may be exposed to asbestos. Eventually, it is expected that the Vulnerable Workers Project, which is set to last for two years in total but may be extended, will be able to offer help to all workers in the construction industry who face exploitation or are exposed to dangerous working conditions by their employers. Whilst the project’s headquarters will consist of just two staff members based in Derby, the scheme will go live across the entire country; although, it may be some time before the whole of the UK can benefit from the scheme.

The Vulnerable Workers Project staff will aim to ensure that one-to-one advice is provided to construction workers in the context of health and safety. Unfortunately, many employers opt to place the life and limb of an employee at risk for the sake of reduced costs or in order to meet deadlines. However, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a statutory duty to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. Employers thus have a legal obligation to maintain a good standard of safety by implementing risk assessments and by taking steps to ensure that risks are avoided or mitigated to a satisfactory extent. The Vulnerable Workers Project will help construction workers by educating them as to their legal rights so that they can stand firm against any rogue employers. The scheme follows the UK Government’s launch of the Pay and Work Rights helpline in September last year, which aimed to provide advice on the National Minimum Wage, employment agency standard gangmaster licensing and so on.

Having achieved funding from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills through the Union Modernisation Fund, the scheme has attracted project partners such as the Health and Safety Executive, Jobcentre Plus, Citizens Advice and Manchester University Business School. Speaking about the project, a UCATT spokesperson said: “The information, training and guidance given will be specifically tailored for construction workers. The nature of the construction industry, which presents problems such as casualisation, very high levels of bogus self-employment and rapid turnover of workers makes construction workers particularly vulnerable”. It is hoped that by offering advice and support to vulnerable construction workers, the project will reduce the number of accident at work claims arising from incidents involving tradespeople who have been exposed to unnecessary risks by their employers.

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