Coronavirus: Engie Fabricom site made safe through union action

Report: Issy Harvey

A huge woodchip processing plant on the Humber near Saltend, Hull, has been made safe and reduced to a skeleton crew.

Senior shop stewards on site worked with a group of lads across all trades who volunteered to form a work committee – who then met with management to express their fears in every aspect of the job.

To their credit, Engie fabricom listened – and after initially trying to make the site safe under the government guidelines conceded that this would be too difficult.

This was management’s response: “We listened to – and understand – your concerns regarding on-going operations, and I would like to reiterate that your health and safety is our key concern. Because of this, and the fact that social distancing in-line with Government recommendations was proving difficult to achieve on site, we have taken the decision to offer you the opportunity to utilise the HMRC-backed process of maintaining your employment, keeping you on payroll but asking you not to attend work – a process that is called “Furloughing” – with effect from 25 March 2020.”

Apart from very minimal supervision, the huge majority of workers – pipe fitters, welders, platers and electricians, riggers mates, around 80 to 100 – have been furloughed,

3 or 4 lads have not been furloughed having had less than a month in employment, so now the union is fighting to get them furloughed too.

So this shows that it can be done – and forming a work committee to work alongside union reps looks like a great model to follow.

One of the reps also makes the following points explaining why you can’t keep working construction sites safe, and why they put extra strain on the NHS:

“1) If there is an accident at work he or she might not be seen by medics or operated on because of the NHS Covid19 priority,

2)It is impossible to maintain the minimum 2 metre safe distance in the Government guidelines, ie, even if you have split breaks and lessen the men co-habiting a standard cabin, you would only get around 6 employees in one cabin, all breathing in the same atmosphere and using the same facilities, we all know cabins are a breeding grounds for deseases

3) To lessen the risk while employees are working on site is not acceptable in these circumstances, removing the risk by sending employees home on Pay is the correct course of action

4) If their is a site emergency or toxic alarm evacuation to an in house muster point or a confined over populated toxic refuge, the 2 metre safe distancing guideline would not be achievable

5) Working by yourself has never been safe practice whilst employed on a construction site, and working in pairs is the only safe way to do a work task – but that is not achievable now because of the Covid 19 2 metre safe distancing government guidelines

6) A lot of construction workers have no option but to use transport to construction sites which are heavily conjested with other workers ,use finger print recognition scanners to clock in and out of work places.”