“It’s just what we do” – The importance of recognising and sharing inclusivity best practice on site.

Blog PictureFor the past 7 years we have put out calls for good practice from the industry and the main response has been work that has been generated from a head office environment. As an ex-site dweller I always suspected that if we scratched the surface we would find a raft of good practice on sites across the country that was not being shouted about. So scratch we did, and overwhelmed we were. Due to contractual constraints we are unable at the moment to talk about some of the great work we have seen being carried out on some of our partner projects so we set off to a local site to find out what best practice we could see being carried out more generally. The results were impressive.

Since it was across the way, and since ISG kindly offered, we popped over to the Liverpool Exhibition Centre to see how they were addressing fairness, inclusion and respect at site level.

Not only did Paul Cunningham, the Health and Safety Co-ordinator on the job take the time to induct us and show us around, but Frank Joyce, the Project Director, was kind enough to give us an overview of the job itself.

The site was an example of what I would now expect to see in a job of that size – including turnstiles, up-to-date health and safety practice and good welfare facilities. The impressive bit was the attention to detail – the thought that had gone into the decisions made and the people involved in making them. That’s what will make a difference to not only the experience of people on-site, but also productivity and the bottom line.

We have selected our top three favourite best practice examples from the site; these are things that not only affect Health and Safety but fairness, inclusion and respect as well.

“Scrap ‘near miss’; it’s ‘hazard recognition’” – The site has changed the terminology of near misses to hazard recognition which may feel like a small, and perhaps insignificant, point but I would argue it’s quite the opposite. ‘Near miss’ holds connotations of blame –  ”someone near missed”, and by reporting it you are either owning up or ‘ratting out’ which is not an appealing proposition, whichever way you look at it. ‘Hazard recognition’ takes on an entirely different tone; it suggests the person recognising the hazard has done something of use, possessed enough skill to recognise the problem and been positive in their action. Whilst this best practice is aimed at health and safety, we would say that the behavioural implication of the words has a vast impact on individuals feeling ok to report challenges in their environment in a way that makes them feel respected. ISG also put up free-to-use anonymous hazard recognition report sheets.

Green, Amber and Red – The use of yellow and red cards is not new in the sector; we also advise them for use when challenging negative behaviour. Where ISG have taken this a step forward is the introduction of a green card to reward positive action from site staff. If you get a green card, your name goes into a hat and every month the winner gets £50 to spend on health and safety equipment. This positive recognition again takes a step away from the historic idea that health and safety is something that you do wrong and starts to show the real benefit of it as something that’s done right. We feel that the approach to fairness inclusion and respect should start here learning the valuable lessons from past work in the sector.

NI Numbers to check ‘right to work’ – Gang–mastering is a problem across the sector, and knowing who has a right to work can be problematic. In order to ensure people are not taken advantage of we need to address this as a matter of urgency. ISG have done started down this path by collecting the NI numbers of people working on site, this allows them to match up to their CSCS cards and ensure they are registered to work.  

These small elements of work build up to a bigger picture of the industry, it’s this style of thinking and these types of changes to working practice that will enable us as a sector to attract and retain the talent we need.

Our thanks again to ISG for letting us have a look around.

If you would like Constructing Equality to visit your site to see the best practice work you are carrying out, let us know or send over your own case study.

Industry Feedback from our Construction Specific Online Equality Training

Over the course of this month we’ve been gearing up for the launch of our online learning. The courses are written, and they have a content that is not only highly informative but also interactive and engaging.

But how can we be sure? The only way to tell was to send out samples to companies from the construction industry and ask them to test it for us, and send in feedback. We sent our samples to leading industry organisations including BAM, Costain, HochtiefMurphy Joint Venture, Seddon, Shepherd, Robertson, CIC, CITB and Miller.

Results

100% of testers said that: The objectives were clearly outlined and met, The content was informative and useful, The presentation had the right level of interactivity, There were enough resources supplied and they all liked us presenting it.

Question One Picture (2) PB 16.05.2014

Question Three Picture (1) PB 16.05.2014

The respondents also commented that the construction industry focus was very useful, as the training addressed the specific challenges faced by the sector. They also pointed out that they felt the training was engaging for the potential audience, and that the interactive aspects were good. The clarity of presentation was highlighted as a strong point, with the information we were conveying being concise and thorough.

There were a few technical issues brought to our attention, but they have now been remedied.

Question Liked Construction (1) PB 16.05.2014

The one hour introduction to Equality in Construction will be available from the 4th of June with a launch webinar on the 30th of June at 1pm  please get in touch if you would like a sample of the training or to register your interest in the webinar.

 

 

 

 

Because I’m happy? Construction and the government index of career happiness.

Blog Picture1A government report showing which careers make people happy offers mixed reading for the sector, with highs like skilled metal, electrical and electronic trades coming in at 10th to lows such as construction labour coming 246 out of the 247 trades listed. Even where we are paying people well in roles such as quantity surveying, the happiness index places the profession in an astonishing 241st place. Electrical and civil engineers seem to be doing ok in at 14th and 55th respectively; but Architects follow a drop placed in at 97 in the chart. In fact, if we break the chart into thirds we find that we have 24% of construction careers in the top third, 40% in the second and 37% in the bottom third. Considering the government is looking to use these stats to help people make informed choices regarding their careers on more than just salary: I’d say the industry has a lot of work to do if we want to attract key candidates.

The sector needs to recognise that the best advert for the industry is the 2.8million people that work within it. No matter how much money we spent on advertising it will always come back to the experiences of people that we know that have the biggest impact on our career decisions, and unfortunately this report is telling us that people in the sector could be happier, which might mean that they are less likely to promote the industry as a good career choice. Not the best advert for the sector. As an industry we need a longer term view that focuses on bringing the sector together to overcome what really is an industry wide problem. We all lose in the scramble for talent as people move around chasing higher salaries including incurring retraining costs and carrying additional burdens due to lack of other competent colleagues.

We advise companies to build more into their offer packages than just wages, because any business can offer money but, as this report shows, few in the built environment sector can offer a workplace where you can actually feel happy.

For more information about how to become an employer of choice email patrick@constructingequality.co.uk

Ehaz ha sowenath whath tho why ha tho goz henath! (Health and prosperity ever to you and yours)

By Matt Crouch. Training and Product Development Manager.

Cornwall blogThis is an historic week for the Celtic people. The UK government has recognised the Cornish people as an official minority. This puts the Cornish on a par with other Celtic peoples such as the Welsh, Irish and Scottish within the UK, and with other minority peoples across Europe.

Their status includes being protected by the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The main aim of the Convention, is to ensure that the rights of national minorities are respected by combating discrimination, promoting equality and preserving and developing the culture and identity of national minorities.

Dick Cole, leader of Mebyon Kernow, said: “This is a fantastic announcement for Cornwall. As the Leader of Mebyon Kernow, I am absolutely delighted that the Government has recognised the Cornish people as a National Minority and it is great to see all the Celtic peoples of these Islands – the Cornish, Irish, Scottish and Welsh – afforded protection under the Framework Convention.

“I would also like to pay a heartfelt tribute to everyone who played a part in the long running campaign to secure National Minority status.” (Quote from www.thisisthewestcountry.co.uk)

Having grown up in the West Country, I may be a little more aware of the achievements of the Cornish than those from further east or north. While most people think of Cornwall as being all about surfing, cream teas and ‘olde worlde’ gift shops, that’s more of a lazy media representation than the actual truth.

Historically, the Cornish have always been hailed as expert miners and engineers, to the extent that mining works worldwide were always eager to have Cornishmen on staff. Famous names include: – Richard Trevithick, a prolific engineer and inventor, without whom the industrial revolution would never have taken off so quickly; John Couch Adams, co-discoverer of Neptune; William Bickford, inventor of safety fuse; and Sir Humphry Davy scientist, inventor and president of the Royal Society.

Well done Cornwall, you have taken your rightful seat amongst your Celtic brethren!

 

 

 

 

Is it harder for people from non-minority backgrounds to understand true discrimination?

Chrissi3-300x202This is a question we were asked in response to some rather misguided comments about discrimination on LinkedIn.

So to be clear – right now I am talking about discrimination towards the protected characteristic groups as detailed in the Equality Act. This is something which I feel has always been best explained by this internet response: –

 

Picture

The point this comment rather brilliantly, but slightly crudely, makes is that if you don’t currently have a protected characteristic it is not likely that you are being held back by anything other than your ability, attitude or life choices. These are, in the most part, things that can affect your ability to do your job and can through study, work choices and self-investment be improved or changed.

If you work in the UK construction sector and are white, British, male, straight, abled-bodied, mentally healthy and 35-45 you are in front – or in first place within the Mario Kart analogy.

Don’t be upset about that – it’s a good thing.

For those who do not fall into this category, other people’s perceptions of ability based upon a protected characteristic could hold them back. E.g.

Age – Too old – can’t handle the work, too young – won’t understand

Race – Not capable due to race, not interested due to race, not able to communicate due to race

Gender – Women are unsuitable for this type of work, women are not capable of working in this environment

Disability – Physical disability would breech Health and Safety, mental disability is a hassle and means they can’t cope

Etc., etc., depressing, etc.

These are some of the politer things we have heard or seen in action. And whilst other people’s opinions can be overcome and we can convince people that we are capable, the point is that being required to prove your ability on the basis of age, gender, race, disability, etc. is not something everyone has to do – it can therefore hold us back.

If you have seen, or felt, this in action it becomes clearer – so, yes, on the one hand I think being representative of a protected characteristic does make it make it easier to understand true discrimination.

However, this is not always the case…

‘Those people’

For some people in protected characteristic groups it can be harder to understand, and for a time in my life I was one of them.

Even though, on reflection, I had faced a lot of discrimination I did not recognise or acknowledge it – the very thought of doing so, I saw as weak.

I thought that if I wanted to work in industry I should put up with the way industry was; I felt that I was a builder first and a woman second. It was only when I got older, and arguably a bit wiser, that I realised by just how far I had missed the point.

You see it didn’t matter what I thought.

It mattered what my bosses thought.

And a lot of them thought I was a novelty, limited, incapable and time constrained because of my gender, not my ability. I know this – because they told me.

I ignored it because I wasn’t THAT type of woman – the type of woman that is affected by these things; the type of woman who can’t handle the job; the type of woman who leaves the industry.

Until, of course, I got fed up of working 60 hours a week without a promotion in sight and carrying an increasingly patronising workload. Then I understood discrimination, and then I left.

So sometimes, I do feel that those from minority groups can find it as difficult to understand discrimination as those from the more privileged side of the fence.

With hindsight, I’d probably say that it’s not harder to understand if you represent a protective characteristic – rather, it is harder to accept it is happening.

What we must all start to understand is that we all gain from diversity – the majority group need not worry about the minority taking their jobs – we know we are again seeing the ugly face of the skills shortage.

We should all recognise now is not the time to tell people they can’t hack it in the sector. Rather, it’s the time for the industry to recognise that not enough people want to hack it anymore. Let’s make sure we can offer everyone a chance to work in the vibrant, challenging industry we know so well, whilst they still want to.

“Isn’t that discrimination?” Why not getting what you want isn’t illegal.

Blog PictureLast week I politely advised a commenter on LinkedIn that I would not be responding to any of his further posts as I felt he had been using abusive and demeaning language towards another contributor. The person in question asked if I was not in fact discriminating against him by choosing not to respond.

Since this is a question I regularly hear posed, I thought it would be useful to explain why yes – I am discriminating, but legally, no – I’m not breaching the law as well as what equality law says on the matter and why this question has a hidden undertone in the context it was used – even if the user is not aware of it.

Was I discriminating?

Yes, I am choosing not to respond. That means I discriminated, distinguished, differentiated, favoured and preferred not to respond. Let me be clear – this is not illegal and in this case for two reasons, i.e. firstly the thing I was discriminating against and secondly the environment I was in.

What can’t I discriminate against?

The law provides a list of nine things, called protected characteristics which you can’t discriminate against. In order to become a protected characteristic the thing must be unrelated to your ability to do your job and have historically been something that people would treat others less favourably because of.

This law is meant to help and protect people that are being prevented from gaining access to work and promotion or receiving hostile behaviour in the workplace. This is not positive discrimination. It does not mean someone with a protected characteristic should be given an advantage over someone without; instead it recognises that if you have a protected characteristic, you are more likely to be at a disadvantage.  This is simply trying to ensure everyone gets the same chance.

What are the protected characteristics?

  • Sex,
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Religion and belief
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Marriage and civil partnership

Does where you discriminate matter?

Yes, in the eyes of the law. The Equality Act looks at different environments, such as the workplace, or the provision of goods and services and applies anti-discrimination law. It doesn’t apply outside of these stated environments, though other laws, such as hate law which prevents the incitement of violence on the grounds of a protected characteristic, may apply.

“But that wasn’t what I wanted to happen – it’s not fair.”

Life rarely is to any of us, but discrimination law helps us to understand that it is often far, far, far more unfair to some groups than others. 

As a company, we strongly believe that all people in the workplace should have access to a minimum standard of protection and also minimum standards within working environments which we don’t always feel are provided across the entire construction sector. We also feel that to move this agenda forward this is the position that we need to start from. BUT –  and it’s a big but – we don’t think that means that the equality agenda becomes unimportant, quite the opposite; we must still strive to understand the experiences of others to retain and attract key talent and to understand how to create an industry that people want to work in, not just put up with.

Inappropriate language in construction, what it represents and why that affects the whole of the sector.

Chrissi3-300x202This week we posted a link to a survey carried out by CITB on language in the construction industry which then proceeded to generate a large number of comments for / against and slightly off tangent. Whilst I attempted to address some comments there I felt that I needed the space this blog affords to do it justice. So let’s have a look at the themes that developed over the course of the comments and see how they impact the wider industry.

There are more important issues – for example skills.

This argument doesn’t really hold much water – at what point is there not always something more important, be that skills, late payments, hunger, disease, death…..? This is usually a technique used to undervalue the worth of something which in this case is the way we treat people in construction.

Oddly enough though, in this case – where skills and training were used to display a more important issue – there was a failure to note the link between the two.  Contrary to popular belief, inappropriate language is not something that only affects the group it is aimed at; most people I know are uncomfortable with comments that are racist and sexist, especially in the workplace as they taint everyone in the industry. Additionally these values are increasingly important to those who are being taught in colleges and schools that this is not acceptable. So we must be careful as an industry that we are not putting off the potential talent that benefit most from training within those establishments and would go on to make our lives easier at work ..

“Sorry about the swearing – I know you hate it.”

I don’t. I swear a lot and often without repeating myself. I just know what’s appropriate in the workplace and what’s appropriate down the pub. Every time anyone who knows me reads something like this they laugh and say, “Well they don’t know you then, do they?”

But this is still an important comment – it’s a passive aggressive statement with a subtext of “if you don’t like swearing you’re too delicate to be on site anyway” or, ”if you like swearing how can you agree with these comments?”.

Firstly swearing has nothing to do with my ability to work on site, secondly whilst I do occasionally slip up and swear at work I believe that in a professional work environment people should feel comfortable in the workplace, and not because I’m cute and kind (my staff will point you right on that one), but because I want to keep my best staff – making them feel uncomfortable, intimidated and stressed is a really bad way to do that. The industry as a whole really needs to learn this lesson. 

Whilst the CITB are looking into this most heinous of crimes. Could they explain the current situation regarding the criteria for a construction managers position. Currently everyone on site has to have the relevant CSCS card to prove competence.

“The CITB are the cause of most of it too.”

The CITB are a big organisation, they have a lot of challenges but they also do a lot of good. As a sector, if we are unhappy with them we need to help them improve – attacking them and weakening their position will, at best, only result in the downfall of the grant and levy systems which would be disastrous for industry training and skill levels. – But that’s a blog and a debate for another day and for someone other than us.

“It’s just Banter”

When we deliver training on banter we split it into three areas: –

The good – this is where banter makes everyone happy, people are productive, good to work with, happy and love what the good banter brings to the job. Keep this – it’s amazing!

The bad – so people mess up…a lot. The world is complicated and things change. If someone doesn’t mean to offend and has just been a bit stupid, I think that’s ok – as long as it’s an environment where it’s ok to say “that’s a bit offensive, would you mind not?” You see, if you think it’s ok to make people feel bad at work, the problem is with you not the person you’ve offended. I’ve offended in the past – probably more than I’ve been offended if I’m honest. The trick is in owning it, not making it a problem – just saying “sorry, I’m an eijit, I’ll make you a cuppa.”

The Ugly – this is a lot of what we are seeing here; it’s not banter, it’s power, abuse and bullying. If your jokes need to be based on those in society with less opportunity, firstly, I hate to break it too you but you’re not as funny as you think you are. Secondly, no one should want this in their workplace, it is ugly and it’s unprofessional and it tells the world that we don’t manage people – we bully them.

Trust me on this, we have delivered training on the subject to hundreds of people that work on site and the majority agree that they love banter – just not the ugly stuff. The ones that don’t have a problem with the ugly banter have clearly already used it as a weapon to undermine others.  Let’s not have an industry controlled by that mentality – the majority don’t want it, they just think everyone else does.

“What’s worse – remarks on site, or the glass ceiling?”

For me, remarks on site are not the biggest problem though they are a good indicator. For example, if your car was leaking oil you wouldn’t scrap it – you would be suspicious that it might be part of a bigger problem and you’d fix it before it breaks completely or change it. If we have a sector that sees no problem with sexist and racist remarks what does that mean? Could it be indicative of general attitudes about women, black people or gay people in the sector? Fixing and changing is a long job but we’re on the case.

When I worked in industry I thought it was about me – if I worked hard, if I proved myself, then everything would fall into place – bless my cotton socks. You see, that doesn’t really matter – if my boss does not think women are as capable as men I will always have to work harder to change that view. The problem is women are not rising up through the ranks, more are coming into the sector each year and then leaving – the same for those from black minority ethnic backgrounds. So yes, the glass ceiling is worse; my managers were always a bigger problem with regards to discrimination than the trades on site.

Again this is a complex area where paternalism, power and abuse all play a part ,but we have written about it here in more detail.

“What’s worse site or office?”

The whole industry has challenges from Architecture to Quantity Surveying, from Groundworker to Setting-out engineer. The challenges differ with regards to many factors, including power, position and, even, attractiveness.

An interesting point was made about page three girls preferring site to office environments, but I would point out that this may (or may not) have more to do with class than gender. As a working-class woman I have always felt more at home on site than in an office. Sites are more likely to be home to the people that I grew up with, hung around with and went drinking with. Things have changed as I’ve got older, and I have become comfortable around people across the full social spectrum, but the point remains – as women, we are more than just a woman; someone who is Asian is more than just their culture and a sixty year old is more than their age.  These are not our sole identifying factors or attributes – these things inform parts of who we are but they are not the definition of us, and nor do they mean that we hold the right to speak on behalf of all women, Asian people or sixty year olds.

I’m not surprised by the findings of that CITB research. 61% have heard sexist remarks – how many have stood up and said its wrong? I’d probably agree a lot of it is said in banter, but one persons banter can be offensive to others.

“It doesn’t bother me – or others.”

I liked Sharon’s response to Ian here so I shall let her respond first:

My experience is that women in construction are thick-skinned and deal with the sexist remarks, it doesn’t mean we like it, it doesn’t mean things shouldn’t change, and it is probably a barrier to those less thick-skinned joining the industry. I would say in the office there is bad language, but I have never heard anything homophobic or racist, and it’s very rare to hear anything blatantly sexist. But as I said before it doesn’t mean these prejudices don’t exist, they are just more subtle about it.”

Ian, you have just made a very key point there – the assumption is that if you work in construction you have to put up with sexist remarks. Do you not think that is what puts off 50% of the population from working in the industry? I enjoy my job, I enjoy being involved in the construction of buildings – seeing projects from start to finish, being able to drive passed a building and say I was involved in the construction of that. Why should I have to put up with sexist remarks to be involved with that?

“The research is flawed.”

This I’ll agree with, but I’m not bothered by – the reason being is that it echoes mountains of other published research written on the subject, the assumption being that such a large volume of research can’t all be flawed. I’ve managed to read around 250 published reports (which we have linked to some in the research section of our site) and they all say the same thing if not worse. The AJ also does a study every year which reports similar findings.

“Does it matter?”

But the important point is it does matter. Not the remarks themselves, but what they are an indication of; the general attitude toward people in certain groups is indicative of something bigger and much uglier. Something which is, whether you choose to see it or not, the reason that so many people (men and women, black and white, young and old, gay, straight and bi) no longer want to work in the sector.

Update on CITB’s Be Fair Framework Pilot

CITBOver the last 12 months we at Constructing Equality Ltd have been piloting the Be Fair Framework for CITB – this is a construction-specific accreditation framework that helps and recognises companies committed to addressing fairness, inclusion and respect across their business and workforce in a challenging but managed learning process. 

Be Fair allows companies to achieve accreditation at different levels appropriate to where each company is currently performing in respect of complying with basic employment law (accredited), complying with public sector requirements (bronze), developing good practice for themselves (silver) or leading for the sector (gold).

The pilot has seen 39 trailblazing companies reaching an assessment point to be recognised at either ‘accredited’ or ‘bronze’ level during this development phase of Be Fair in order to test the robustness and validity of the product.

The sub-contractor and main contractor companies that have reached the assessment point come in all shapes and sizes ranging from small subs like Decorous Painting Contractors and InterCeil Ltd to large mains like Morgan Sindall and Graham Construction.

They have all contributed to the further development and refinement of the CITB Be Fair Framework in order to make it the best fit for the construction sector through their participation and have ensured it is a framework written, developed and tested by the industry for the industry.

The full list of companies who have reached assessment are: –      

Graham Wates ISG Morgan Sindall Vinci BAM Mitie Lend Lease Decorous Painting ContractorsInterCeil Ltd Holloway Cook Associates Highwire Ltd Complete Access (Scaffolding) Ltd Walter Carefoot and Sons Ltd Rodden and Cooper J Sives Surfacing Ltd ASC Edinburgh Ltd Durkan Ltd Mineral Star Construction Ltd Southport Gate Ltd Macform Ltd Admiral Scaffolding MAC Roofing and Contracting Ltd Peri Ltd Alexandra Tool Hire Cull Dry Lining and Plastering Ltd Currall, Lewis and Martin MTM Construction Ltd Penny Lane Builders Ltd DCT Civil Engineering The Sovini Group K & M McLoughlin Meldrum Construction Services Safedem T and B (Contractors) Ltd John Rodriguez Plastering Ltd R L Davies             

We are very proud of how the pilot companies have performed and of the achievements they have made for themselves and on behalf of the sector in demonstrating that construction can become a fair, inclusive and respectful industry for all. 

Graham Construction are clearly very happy with their experience as has been highlighted by the CITB in their release last week.

But more than anything we are so very proud to have been able to work with and support so many fantastic like-minded people and companies who are committed to ensuring that our industry can be a fair place to work and can become a career of choice sooner rather than later!

“I now see the real work of embedding the framework in our procedures and processes beginning in earnest now – and particularly in working with our supply chain to bring them fully on board.”

Kevin O’Connor,Durkan Ltd.

“I started the process with you and hopefully you will be there for us when we reach our level 4 pass -Thanks for all your help during the process.”

Anita Cull-Roy, Cull Dry Lining and Plastering Ltd.

“Thanks for all your help during the process.”

Angela Carney, InterCeil Ltd.

“All I can say is WOOHOOO! Admiral were proud to be asked by CITB to participate in the Be Fair Pilot programme. The entire process has made us more aware of how we can provide for our current and potential employees by showing that we are a fair and equal workplace… we have made some very positive changes that will benefit the entire organisation…and Constructing Equality have been great throughout the entire process, providing support and direction when we needed it..”

Reanne Kurnof, Admiral Scaffolding Group.

“Thank you so much for ALL your attentiveness and quality of support – The overall experience of this pilot is highly commendable and I would not hesitate to recommend this to other construction companies.”

Jean Duprez,K & M McLoughlin.

“What lovely news for a Monday morning! We are absolutely thrilled (and relieved!) with this achievement and would like to return the thanks to you for your time, effort, assistance and patience with us.”

Lynsey Downie, Macform Ltd.

 

If this has whetted your appetite to see how you might measure up against the Be Fair Framework, visit the registration page on  CITB’s website and sign up to register your interest in the framework.  This will ensure you are advised of the launch dates and events and that you get first option of taking up a place on the framework to work towards your assessment when CITB launch it across the sector in June.

False self-employment in the UK construction industry – why tax regulations are putting the horse before the cart.

There’s been a lot of work by the government in recent years looking at false self-employment in the UK construction sector.  The driver for this work has always been that the government misses News Stories 17-03-2014out on, somewhere in the region of, £1.7 billion in revenue and therefore clamping down on what is perceived as a ‘fraudulent bunch’ is seen as the solution.

For those that don’t know, false self-employment is where someone is classed as self-employed and therefore has all the risk associated with running a business, but does not have any of the gains. For example, they would not be able to have someone else do their work on their behalf, nor could they decide whether or not to undertake work, determine their own hours or negotiate separate payments. What makes this situation damaging is that they also don’t have the protection afforded to the employed workforce with regards to holiday pay, sick pay, employment rights or retirement pay.

In 2009, the last time the government acted on this issue, it could be argued that they succeeded in doing little more than making the whole situation a lot worse. Instead of protecting the workforce it succeeded in starting up a multi-million pound industry that charged individuals £15 – £25 pound per week extra.

UCATT has done some great work around this area and I would urge you to read it.

For now though, I want to talk about how this situation affects individuals and how, in turn, that is impacting on the sector.

In our work with the industry we have identified three main types of false self-employed people (remember – if you are self-employed and have the opportunity to turn down work, fix your own price or subcontract your works, we are NOT talking about you): –

 

“It’s just the way it is, you can’t change the sector”

Many people are resigned to the fact that this is just how the industry operates. Quite often these individuals are unhappy with the situation but don’t see another alternative and so accept it.

“It’s ridiculous; I don’t think I’ll be in the industry much longer”

Many new entrants to the industry expect something better, and are often appalled when they learn that they will be taking a reduction on an already low wage. Unfortunately, many of these individuals already have plans to ‘up sticks’ to a different sector once we come out of recession.  I find it rather worrying that we are losing people who have the capability of identifying negative employment practice – surely these should be people we fight to keep?!

“I like being self-employed, it gives me more flexibility”

‘Hegemony’ is a useful word – it means oppression by consent, and whilst I believe it will upset a few people to levy it here, it needs to be said. Often the problem with false self-employment is that people do not really understand what it means. There is something psychologically satisfying about being self-employed – I won’t deny that for a second. We have to start appreciating that a large part of the reason we now have so much false self-employment is because there are a large group of people that believe this is what is best.

This conversation we had with a roofer explains the situation: –

ME: Are you employed or self-employed?

Roofer: Self-employed.

ME: How long have you worked with just this company?

Roofer: Over 25 years.

ME: Would you like to be fully employed?

Roofer: No I like knowing I can leave when I want

ME: Do you have to give notice at the moment?

Roofer: Yes – one month.

This is a conversation that we have had many times. What it highlights to us is that there is a misunderstanding around what it really means to be employed by a company. We agree that companies also need to be educated to see the longer term benefits of an employed workforce, but we do need to understand that over the years a pride and identity has formed around the idea of a self-employed status – even if that not what it really is.

Why should we care? If we are not bothered about basic employment rights perhaps then we should consider the bottom line – if current practices are driving away new entrants who are cute enough to see past the hegemony, we are often left with only those who have no other choice than to accept these terms. This means that we are driving the industry towards an apathetic and unengaged workforce which will affect your bottom line. With regards to diversity, false self-employment is much more suited to the average white male for a number of reasons (which if you request it we will detail for you), so we will likely not move any further with this agenda either.

The solution? Education helps people to understand the real benefits by showing bottom line figures of how much better individuals would be over a year, how much companies would have to gain over 3 years and what the sector could look like if a return to employment was something we adopted across the sector. I know transient labour is an issue, but that is not an excuse for keeping all trade staff as self-employed, especially if they have worked solely for one company for over 3 years.

The industry has a great power in that it can make people find acceptability and pride in even the most dire of situations. I will admit to falling into similar traps myself, such as believing that 70 hour working weeks (without overtime) were acceptable, or that in order to prove myself I should be able to accept any behaviour directed at me. I would suggest that if we changed the way we treated people in the industry we would find that we empowered, educated and protected our workforce which would benefit all parties immensely.

“Engineers are good in bed” and other passive aggressive google predictions

This week, for fun, we thought we would show the results of what happens when you type ”professions are…” into google (for ‘profession’, specify a particular one).

The results are rather odd – from the bewildering “plumbers are red hedgehogs are blue” to the depressing “architects are stupid”, google has a lot to say about careers in the built environment. Surprisingly, bricklayers came out on top with the comments directed towards the need for them – roofers on the other hand need an image shake-up.

Humour aside, we know that google makes its predictions based upon previous searches so we challenge you to search on what your “professions are…” – it would be brilliant to try and change the top result. E.g. “site managers are hardworking geniuses” – at the moment we don’t even get a mention.

 

Architects are

Architects are

Engineers are

engineers

Roofers are

roofers

Planners are

planners

Clients are

clients

Bricklayers

bricklayers

Plumbers are

plumbers