Construction staff call for pause in work amid soaring coronavirus cases

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Construction workers being forced to commute during soaring coronavirus cases have called for a pause in non-essential work due to safety fears.

Despite concerns over the current surge in the virus, work in the construction and manufacturing industries has continued during recent months in all four nations of the UK.

The UK Government, responsible for the rules in England, encourages staff to travel in to sites if they cannot work at home, saying on its website that “this is essential to keeping the country operating and supporting sectors and employers”.

However, Will, a supervisor for a number of sites across the south east of England, said many staff he works with do not feel safe, and called for a pause on non-essential construction while cases of the virus were rocketing.

“A lot of the construction industry just feel so let down and forgotten during this second wave,” he told the PA news agency.

“A lot of guys here either don’t feel safe or, to be honest, don’t care, because if they do not come in they don’t get paid, and not paying bills and putting food on the table is a bigger issue to them.”

Will, who asked that his surname was not included, said that he had visited five different sites in the past eight days.

He added that, even though his company provides PPE and other protections, busy train lines in London and a lack of space on site made it “impossible to keep people apart”.

“Personally, I believe they should close non-essential sites for a period of four to six weeks like they did back in April,” he said.

“It’s not like we are building a hospital or doing essential motorway works.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, wearing a face mask, ahead of a statement on new COVID-19 restrictions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Among the stricter rules announced by the First Minister are a ban on drinking alcohol outdoors in public areas under lockdown and further restrictions on takeaways and click and collect services
Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Andy Buchanan/PA)

In Scotland, some construction workers were expecting Ms Sturgeon to announce more restrictions on Wednesday, but were left disappointed.

“I am working on a site where houses cost an average of £400,000,” one Scottish worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, told PA.

“There is not one form of affordable housing on this site and I feel that the only reason I am working is to fund the corporate greed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Conway Heathrow Asphalt & Recycling Plant construction site in west London
Boris Johnson visiting a construction site (Alberto Pezzali/PA)

A sales worker for a major house builder in England said it “makes no sense at all” that she cannot meet her neighbour inside but can meet “hundreds of strangers in a show home”.

Betty, 52, from Yorkshire, said she had been “made to go to work” despite saying “we have all of the tools we need to work from home”, such as virtual viewings.

She told PA: “I have to meet with complete strangers inside sometimes for hours on end.

“I’ve challenged the reasoning behind being an essential worker but the only answer I get is ‘we’re following Government guidelines’.

Betty, who did not want to give her full name, said her job involved “not only showing people round show homes but spending hours at a time in an enclosed office while customers are choosing kitchens etc.

“I had one request appointment the other day from over 80 miles away.

“I have asked if we could ensure essential appointments only but, who can police what is classed as essential?”

Charlotte Childs, GMB union national officer, said “construction workers are rightly concerned about commuting to site, often by public transport, and the risk from Covid-19 as a result.

“Sites have adopted good practice in terms of social distancing and our members are doing all they can to stay safe.

“But employers must undertake risk assessments and take appropriate action.

“Most importantly, workers should not suffer loss of pay as a result of the Government’s mismanagement of this whole crisis and safety should always come first.”

A Health and Safety Executive spokesperson said: “Any worker concerned about their health and safety arrangements should talk to their employer.

“If they remain concerned, they can raise these concerns with us.”

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