Unions call for action over the Crossrail 'climate of fear'
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Unions call for action over the Crossrail 'climate of fear'

 

CONSTRUCTION unions have called for urgent action from Crossrail and its main contractors after a leaked report claimed workers are too scared to raise health and safety concerns because they fear being sacked.

The UCATT union branded the report “disturbing” and said managers of the £15billion project, which employs hundreds of Irish people, must explain why a “climate of fear” has arisen.

“This is a devastating report which shows the appalling state of industrial relations at Crossrail. This is clearly having a massive impact on safety and is placing workers in danger,” added Steve Murphy, UCATT’s general secretary.

But one senior Irish worker on the London project has dismissed the claims, telling The Irish Post that Crossrail is among the safest jobs he has worked on during four decades in the industry.

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The report, leaked to the Observer newspaper, accuses Crossrail managers of secretly photographing and videoing workers who may be in danger.

Such spying is “hard to understand and even harder to justify”, it says.

The damning analysis adds that injured workers are "afraid to report due to the likelihood of being laid off".

It also paints a worrying picture of a culture on site that is “almost entirely counterproductive” to delivering the project safely, on time and within budget.

The warnings coincide with Workers Memorial Day on Monday and come a month after a worker was killed on a Crossrail site by a falling slab.

They also follow construction unions’ claims in The Irish Post last week that the blacklisting scandal has left “culture of fear” in the construction industry due to the way some workers were kept out of work for years after raising health and safety concerns.

The report was produced 12 months ago by consultants MindSafety for the firms digging tunnels at Whitechapel and Liverpool Street Station. The four contractors involved are; Balfour Beatty, BeMo Tunnelling, Morgan Sindall and Vinci Construction.

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It said: “The intention of the client is to get the job done safely, on time and with a healthy financial position on completion.

“The reality is that the methods used on-site are almost entirely counterproductive to this. The relationship between client and contractor seems to be strained almost to breaking point.

“A common theme throughout the visit surrounded the idea that the client was ‘policing’ the contractor – trying to catch them out at every turn. Reports of spying and underhand tactics came flooding to us.”

Crossrail tried to dismiss the report’s conclusions, saying it “refutes this inaccurate description”.

A spokesperson for the project said it has enjoyed a good relationship with the four firms concerned since they began work.

“Crossrail’s safety record is better than the UK construction average,” he added.

Meanwhile, an Irish supervisor on one Crossrail site managed by another firm, Bam Ferrovial Kier, said the warnings should be limited to those sites examined by the report.

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“I would have no experience of people thinking they are too scared to report health and safety concerns,” he told The Irish Post.

“I would say Crossrail is a lot more conscious of health and safety than most projects in Britain.”

The Irishman, who has 40 years’ experience working on British sites, added: “There are constantly toolbox talks and BFK has their own safety officers, who deal with issues on a daily basis and make a point of encouraging people to report something if they think it is not safe.”

But UCATT’s Mr Murphy called on Crossrail bosses to meet with unions to discuss the report’s claims.

“The most disturbing part of the report is that it describes how workers are fearful of reporting accidents because they believe that if they do so they will be laid off,” he added.

“This demonstrates wide spread problems throughout the construction industry where blacklisting and in particular the fear of blacklisting remains a real and credible fear for the construction workers.”