Unite, the UK’s construction union, is calling on the government to extend its wage support scheme announced last Friday (20 March), to protect over one million self-employed construction workers during the coronavirus crisis.
The union is in the process of urging the government to extend its wage scheme to immediately cover workers paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) and those paid via umbrella companies and payroll companies.
A Freedom of Information request made by Unite last year found that 1.03 million construction workers were paid via the CIS scheme in 2018/19, the vast majority were classed as self-employed and paid on a weekly basis. A further 300,000 construction workers are paid via umbrella companies.
Prior to the government’s employee assistance scheme being announced, Unite recommended that all self-employed workers who are taxed at source (which would encompass CIS workers) be treated as workers, and all workers including those paid by CIS, should be considered to be employees for the purpose of the scheme.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The UK’s bricklayers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers will be deeply worried that if they are officially self-employed they will not be protected by the government’s scheme.
“Most construction workers are the primary breadwinners in their family and swift action is needed to ensure that they are protected throughout the coronavirus crisis.
“Over half of the industry is officially self-employed, with most of those bogusly self-employed. This is part of the hire and fire culture existing in construction which results in workers being dumped without warning or compensation during downturns.
“In the short term the million plus workers paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) and the 300,000 plus workers paid through umbrella companies must be brought into the scope of the government’s wage support scheme and Unite will be lobbying government to ensure that occurs.
“In the long term a commission is needed into construction employment to ensure that workers who survive on a feast and famine existence secure proper employment protections.”