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Posted on 25 March 2020 at 18:42 GMT

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Construction site bosses put profits first

A Peterborough Socialist Party and Unite member

Even capitalism's most ardent defenders have been forced to admit who the real key workers in society are. Regular readers of the Socialist will not be surprised to learn that it isn't the bankers, hedge fund managers, stockbrokers and investment banking associates.

It's teachers, NHS staff, delivery drivers, shop workers, care workers, to name but a few.

However, with the government now forced to recognise the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic - and the callousness of Cummings' initial 'herd immunity' approach widely criticised by the medical experts and the public alike - the government has now advised everyone to stay at home unless you are an "essential service".

Except, it seems, if you work in the construction industry, as I do.

Despite the considerable strain and risk to public health caused by millions of workers being packed on to trains or on works sites, it appears construction industry representatives - huge financial donors to the Tories - have lobbied hard to keep their profits coming in, potentially at the cost of human lives.

In addition, the government doesn't want to have to pay for the loss of income for construction workers, about a million of whom are classified as 'self-employed'.

If they need to self-isolate or the sites are closed they should be paid the trade union agreed industry rate for the job.

Social media has been flooded by concerned workers and their family members with the hashtag #ShutTheSites, with stories of bosses telling workers - self-employed and contracted alike - to come to work despite the risk to public health.

As good as these social media campaigns are at raising awareness to the wider public, it's now time to work in the real 'national interest' and organise resistance.

Workers must talk to each other and speak to the boss collectively.

Bosses must be informed of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and the Employment Rights Act 1996, which all give employees the right to leave their place of work if they feel they are in 'serious and imminent' danger. Coronavirus is a serious danger.

I would point all construction workers to Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 in particular.

If bosses are still unwilling to put the lives of workers' families and the public before profit, then workers must be prepared to take strike action.

The risks to us as workers and our families are too great to be left in the hands of profit-at-all-costs bosses and this Tory government. Workers must take control.

UPDATE: On Friday 27 March the construction worker who wrote the above was able to report:

Using discussions in the workplace and a hastily created WhatsApp group we were able to coordinate our demands to our boss to ensure our safety.

We quoted Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and stood united in our refusal to work if necessary.

Our boss was forced to agree to furlough the workforce in line with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, initially on the government specified 80% of pay.

However we were able to win a guarantee that the company would pay us the additional 20% when work commences. Our current terms and conditions were also protected for when we return to work.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
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  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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