2 March 2015
Protests have once again become a feature outside Crossrail construction sites in central London. Crossrail is the largest, publicly-funded construction project in Europe and it is set to open in 2018 at a cost of £15bn. As the project progresses, thousands of construction workers will be employed on its many sites.
In recent weeks there have been two sackings on Crossrail both involving Unite members who were sacked for raising health and safety concerns. As a result there have now been a series of protests – two at the Bond Street Costain/ Skanska site and one at Whitechapel.
Following the first protest at Bond Street, which brought rush-hour traffic grinding to a halt outside the site the electrician was informed that he would be on gardening leave on full pay until his employer (the agency VGC) could discuss with Unite his terms of reinstatement. However, following a hearing, the company have reneged on this and have since written to him informing him that he will not be reinstated.
A further protest was held at the site this morning but quickly marched on to the Hanover Square site despite a heavy police presence. Protesters shut both gates to the site, stopping deliveries entering.
The last time that there was a campaign of protests on Crossrail was following the sacking of Frank Morris who worked at the time for sub-contractor Electrical Installations Services, which has since gone bust.
The campaign targeted Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) who employed EIS. Initial localised protests at the Westbourne Park site (the job EIS was thrown off of), expanded to hundreds of protests around the country and internationally taken up and organised by Unite the Union.
Frank won his reinstatement onto Crossrail. But it seems like the issues at the centre of Frank’s initial dismissal may not have been resolved. At the heart of this remains the need to have union health and safety representatives on every Crossrail site.
Health and safety is not an optional extra. Last year’s tragic death of 43 year old Rene Tkacik shows what the stakes are in the industry. Rene was crushed by a piece of falling shotcrete.
A vigil by the Construction Safety Campaign was held outside St Pancras Coroner’s Court on the day the inquest opened and was joined by members of Rene’s family. The vigil was also joined by those who had been protesting that morning over the sacking at Whitechapel.
It is unacceptable that the inquiry into Rene’s death decided that it would not hear evidence submitted regarding wider health and safety issues on the Crossrail project.
Last year the Observer reported:
“A statement given by the whistleblower to the HSE in June, seen by the Observer, claims that concrete regularly fell on and around workers, although usually in small handfuls.
The statement says: “During my time working on the project I saw shotcrete fall on many occasions. Normally this was within the first few hours of it being sprayed. I saw a few near-misses. The area where the spraying was taking place was often surrounded with red and white tape, but people walked in this area if they needed to be there.”
Further protests are planned outside of Crossrail’s sites to demand these union members are reinstated. The worker at the Bond Street site was told that he would have three years work on the project!
What happens on Crossrail will be pivotal for the construction industry. It is a big opportunity for Unite to unionise the project. The Crossrail bosses know this and are running scared.
This will be an important part of the discussions at the weekend’s national construction rank and file meeting. The national rank and file organisation was formed out of the successful national BESNA dispute 2011-12, when companies tried to push through a huge attack on electricians terms and conditions.
- The national construction rank and file meeting in Glasgow takes place this Staurday 7 March, 1-3.30pm, followed by Blacklist Support Group AGM at the Jury’s Inn, 80 Jamaica Street, Glasgow, G1 4QG