The Socialist 1 April 2020 |
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Hull construction workers force bosses to shut down site over health and safety fears
Tricoya wood chip factory (Click to enlarge)
Keith Gibson, senior GMB union steward (personal capacity)
The government says "stay at home" yet leaves the bosses to decide whether their profits are more essential! At the Tricoya site in Hull, steel construction workers employed by Engie Fabricom, are building a wood chip acetylation plant.
We have always worked in pairs for safety reasons. We share cabins that hold around 16 workers. The cabins are 5x2 metres and are air-tight tested to protect against any chemical release incident. The government guideline on Covid-19 of a two-metre distance rule is therefore impossible to implement while working on site, and even during break times.
On 23 March the 100-strong workforce decided to withdraw its labour until it received reassurances from the company that our idea to split the tea breaks, and work start and finishing times, would be implemented. This would halve both cabin and changing room occupancy. This was agreed, and the workforce went back on site.
That night Boris Johnson announced the need for everyone to stay at home. 'Necessary and unnecessary' work entered the fray. The next morning the workforce again refused to start work, demanding a lay-off on the agreed 38-hour week national trade union agreed pay rate.
Believing our work unnecessary, another refusal to risk worker health and safety saw a unanimous agreement not to return to work. I put forward that workers should only return to the site to put all the equipment back in the stores, to store tools away, and then return to the cabin area to await a response from management.
We put together a written collective grievance which included putting the company on notice that it had a duty of care to the workforce.
After explaining the content of the grievance to a manager, he informed us that the head of HR was coming down to the site to address the workforce. He told the workforce that as of 25 March we would be sent home, and would be paid 80% of our wages through the furlough scheme until further notice.
All the workforce agreed to this proposal, and were relieved to be going home to their families.
Although the provision for lay off has temporarily been replaced by the furlough, an actual 20% cut in pay, workers are proud to have collectively united to protect the health and safety of the workforce, their families, and the wider local community, which in turn gives support to NHS workers on the front line.