Reel News have been inundated with messages from construction workers all over the UK, demanding their sites are shut down during the coronavirus crisis. Anyone who’s worked on a building site knows that social distancing is impossible due to the nature of the work -and this is being exarcerbated by further unsafe and dangerous practises. Now sites are being forced to shut down through action inside and outside sites. Here’s a round up of some of the stuff that’s been happening; follow @ShutThesites on Twitter and Reel News on Facebook or Twitter (@ReelNewsLondon) to keep up to date and get involved.
Just a reminder of the Goverment advice that’s enabling unscrupulous employer like this. “With the exception of some non-essential shops and venues, we are not asking any other businesses to close – indeed it’s important for business to carry on. However, you should encourage your employees to work from home unless it is impossible for them to do so. Sometimes this will not be possible …. for instance if they operate machinery, work in construction or manufacturing, or are delivering frontline services.”
So our task is clear: shut down sites through collective action by workers, get furloughed on full pay (or at least the 80% promised by the Government) and put pressure on the Government to tell these sites to shut down. Otherwise thousands of lives will be lost needlessly.
1) MGT: Project to build the biggest biomass plant in the world
The MGT construction site building the biggest biomass power station in the world near Middlesborough is close to being shut down completely.
Following outcry at scenes like this last week, with 1,700 workers being forced to work in dangerous conditions where social distancing was impossible, a number of companies doing the work on the site backed down and furloughed their workers at the end of last week, sending them home on 80% wages – but SPIE, Powertherm and Brand were still insisting on their workers turning up yesterday..
Following negotiations with union reps over the weekend, SPIE were forced to back down too and shut down operations. Powertherm, who work directly for the Spanish client Technicas Rodundas, were foolishly still trying to carry on – that may be because they are probably paid by the hour by Technicas Rodundas for labour, materials and equipment instead of having submitted a quote for the job. But all their laggers just sat in welfare yesterday morning refusing to work, before going home. Brand are still disgracefully holding out and expecting their workers to come in.
We’re being told there are now only around 300 workers out of the 1,700 left on site, with a few other companies still continuing a skeleton operation. There is also problems to be urgently sorted out with companies just paying their workers off instead of furloughing them on 80% of their wages – something that won’t cost them a penny.
One company that’s refusing to furlough is Balfour Beatty. Their 72 workers were on fixed term contracts that ended on March 30th, but because off the Covid 19 virus there is still work to be done. The company could easily have furloughed their workers on that basis – but instead they’ve given them a weeks notice and paid them off. And as they were on fixed term contracts, they’re not entitled to a consultation or an at risk from redundancy letter.
Balfour Beatty is a particularly nasty employer with a long record of illegally blacklisting trade unionists and denying them work in the industry – as well as being responsible for the BESNA dispute in 2011-12, when they led an industry offensive to cut electricians pay by 35%. Balfour Beatty suffered a spectacular defeat back then after a sustained campaign of direct action, walkouts and occupations.
This site still needs to be shut down completely and these problems sorted out a a matter of urgency – huge respect for the union reps who forced SPIE to back down, and to the laggers who refused to work. You have made your entire community so much safer through your actions and undoubtedly saved lives. And thanks to all of you who have been sending information through anonymously, sharing these posts and generally creating an outcry to back the workers up inside.
2) Smulders Yard, Wallsend
Smulders yard in Wallsend, where a number of workers have had enough and are refusing to go into work to be put in life-threatening conditions like this.
One worker at the yard said: “This for me should have meant an immediate closure of the yard and the company to apply for the 80% furlough from the government, which ensures that the company will not be hit. Still the company is finding loopholes to keep the yard open and putting lads lives and their families lives at risk, that’s before mentioning the domino effect it has into the community once this virus is spread. Multiple people on the yard and offices have already had symptoms and there has been confirmed cases already, and still they will not close. They have sent emails saying that they will not force people into work, but that still doesn’t stop the fact that they are a part of spreading this disease.”
“The company have decided that staggered breaks (which really does nothing to help) and putting lads out on the shop floor in ‘spells’, giving 2 people 1.5 hrs to work and then swapping with another 2 is sufficient. When in reality the canteens are still quite full and lads are being given jobs to do on their own when it is clear it is only safe to do in a pair.”
Then video footage was sent to us of security giving out information leaflets from the company – with BARE HANDS, and with no sanitiser or any other PPE whatsoever.
We’ve also been told that:
1) Once you’re inside the yard there’s no hand sanitizer anywhere, apart from soap in the toilets – and there’s not even any hot water in the toilets.
2) The canteens are STILL only cleaned once per day as usual, and they don’t have professional cleaners, just labourers.
3) Supervisors have been seen standing as close to workers as they would have done before the outbreak.
Another worker said: “Smulders have us working one and half hour spells. At the point of the change over the lads who are due their breaks leave the job around 5 mins early – thus sitting in the canteen at the same time as the lads who are due to leave, all having those few minutes together. There is absolutely no supervision in relation to making sure the government guidelines are followed. I’ve witnessed multiples of lads use the outdoor lifts to get up to the top of the jackets (part of the structure for the offshore wind farms). To my knowledge there is normally up to 700 employees on site.”
The management are clearly rattled as pressure builds up. General Manager L.J. Coosemans, rather than do something about his dangerous workplace, spent Sunday March 29 in the canteen taking photos as false evidence – when there were only 16 workers in the canteen.
One foreman has already been diagnosed with coronavirus, who would have been in contact with many workers.
All workers are being classed as key workers when they’re clearly doing non-essential work. The majority of the workforce is from Portugal/Poland and were promised a few weeks back that if they stayed when they had the chance to go home, they would 100% be able to carry on working. Now it’s very difficult for those workers to walk off the job because they have nowhere to go.
Is if this wasn’t bad enough, on Sunday night Coosemans took the unbelievably stupid step of starting 20 new welders – brought up from London, and staying in campervans in the car park. Apart from the fact that no-one should be travelling out of London (the epicentre of the virus) at the moment, it’s highly likely that these workers have been flown in from abroad. They won’t have been tested at the airport -and they certainly won’t have been tested before coming on site.
3) Hinckley Point
This was the clocking stations and queue for busses at Hinckley Point C, 6pm, Wednesday March 25. As you can see, no social distancing whatsoever, on a site with thousands of workers.
And now it’s emerged that the management were still taking on WORKERS FROM ABROAD up to last week. So management are not only accelerating the spread of COVID-19 here, but are in grave danger of accelerating the spread in other countries.
Obviously at Reel News we believe that all workers should be able to work anywhere in the world that they wish – but roundly condemn management who put workers from abroad in danger when they’re just trying to feed their families.
This is a worker on the site, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job:
“We have people from countries all over the world working there. All getting on same busses to and from work, all sharing same locker rooms and mixing together out on site. They daren’t shut it down because of cost. That’s the top and bottom of it. But if we decide to go home there’s no guarantee we will get any pay at the moment. It’s a shit situation when we have families at home we go back to every weekend, but need to keep a roof over their heads.
Since the outbreak there has been people arriving from abroad. It was only last week they so called stopped visitors and new starts entering.”
More info from the partner of an employee of the bus company, Somerset Passenger Solutions: “The reassurances HPC have given are false and do not fall in line with government advice. They are not being checked for temperature (only randomly) and PPE still not available.
Even threatening an employee with a disciplinary for wearing a mask. They continue to over pack the busses and allow thier staff to travel home (all over the country) for consecutive days off.”
So it’s not just the immediate community HPC are endangering – they’re endangering communities all over the country.
This is from a local resident: “My next door neighbour (who works in a hospital!) has two HPC contractors lodging in her House. One goes home up north every week, just returned this morning. The other one goes home monthly, her partner has been sent home from his job.
The situation is so dangerous that it has now made the national news in France, with the biggest and most prestigious paper in the country, Le Monde, publishing a very critical article yesterday. You can see it here (unfortunately it’s behind a paywall): https://www.lemonde.fr/…/nucleaire-sur-le-chantier-d-hinkle…
4) Keadby power station project, near Scunthorpe
We’re hearing that this site could shut down this Friday with all workers furloughed, after an outcry over the most stupid, dangerous, irresponsible practise on a building site we’ve been sent so far.
This is a project run by Siemens and SSE to build a power station at Keadby, near Scunthorpe. In the pictures you can see workers queuing up to have their id checked – with a FINGERPRINT MACHINE. So every single worker on the job is touching the same surface, one by one.
If any one of them has coronavirus – they are potentially passing it on to every single worker on the site.
One of the workers there says: “We asked for the fingerprint turnstiles to be turned off and they said no way, then we’re being put to work where it’s impossible to stay two meters apart! When we complained he said to us “if you dont like it, fuck off and I’ll fetch a load more germans over, you english donkeys.”
Meanwhile SSE managers have left the site to work from home and left just one man on site! So they take precautions – and force their workers to work in a way that is bound to spread the virus throughout the surrounding communities.
Remember that many people who have the virus display no symptoms. Research published last week by Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University in New York and his colleagues analysed the course of the epidemic in 375 Chinese cities between 10 January, when the epidemic took off, and 23 January, when containment measures such as travel restrictions were imposed.
The study concluded that 86 per cent of cases were asymptomatic or had only very mild symptoms. Even though these people were only 55 per cent as contagious as people with symptoms, the study found that they were the source of 79 per cent of further infections, due to there being more of them, and the higher likelihood that they were out and about.
Now the outcry on social media has given workers confidence to stand up for their rights inside the site – and we are on the verge of a major site being shut down.
5) Affinity Living, Manchester
At Affinity Living in Manchester, workers have been told to carry on as normal, no hand sanitizer on site, over 500+ lads in each of the 3 buildings – and hundreds of lads on the street outside.
This is a job building luxury flats. LUXURY FLATS. Not only non-essential work, but completely unnecessary work. So, at a time where we’re seeing the well-off fleeing from London to their second homes without any thought of the infection they’re spreading and the extra strain they’re going to put on the NHS in those places, and panic buying huge stocks of food without any thought to those who are in need – now they want construction workers to risk their lives catching the coronavirus to build new flats for them.
Meanwhile the rest of us are joining mutual aid groups in our thousands, desperately trying to look after each other and putting the vulnerable first.
SISK, the main contractors, are actively fighting to keep the site open. Some firms have pulled off but are unbelievably trying to allocate their workers to different Manchester sites.
30 brave workers were trying to take a stand and were refusing to move to another site on March 26, thereby risking spreading the coronavirus even more, but then had the problem of needing to eat at some point – and they need to be sent home to be paid.
6) EEW OSB
EEW OSB, just up the river from the MGT site – they’re still working too, management insist they’re ok along with all construction to continue work. This will be typical of many construction sites – loads of room to self-distance, but because of the nature of the work, impossible to self-distance.
We got this message from one of the workers yesterday: “One lad has self isolated with a really high temperature and other symptoms, they just said we don’t need to go home so they got a firm in to deep clean the canteen.”
Ian Mantle, site manager at EEW OSB, has threatened to sack anyone taking photos of the unsafe conditions there, he has his workers doing 4 shifts day and night, with people having to take breaks together in the canteen in close proc=ximity to each other.
One person has already had to quarantine himself with a fever and other symptoms – still he won’t shut down. Both his sons are quarantined with coronavirus too – still he won’t shut down.
7) EEW OSB
EEW OSB are a company producing offshore wind turbine infrastructure near Middlesborough.
The workers here are so scared that they don’t even dare send a photo … one of them says: “We took a pic of the halls where lads are welding and grinding and it’s impossible to be apart. But after we did people are now being watched. It’s business as usual, people in and out, nowt has stopped. it’s a total risk to NHS and the UK people … staff on site are scared but what can we do? Totally irresponsible, money over lives. What product they make is not as important as human life .. plz plz don’t use my name as I cannot afford to lose my job but I also don’t want to die as this is the reality of situation …”
So these bastards KNOW they’re putting peoples lives at risk, but don’t want anyone to see what’s really happening.
8) Henry Boots Leicester
Shut down by site manager after loads of flak from the workers there. Only 20 workers – if they can get their site down then so can the bigger, far more dangerous sites.
9) BooHoo Warehouse, Burnley
This is the warehouse for Boohoo in Burnley, an online retailer that quite clearly is not doing essential work – and as shown in the photo, not practising any social distancing whatsoever. Yet another dangerous incubation centre for coronavirus.
One of the workers there says: “Over 1000 staff come through here everyday which is putting us all at high risk of catching the Coronavirus, the warehouse is also open 24/7 so the chances of it spreading are very high. They’ve also started offering overtime which means even more staff on shift. It is impossible to keep a 2m distance in a warehouse.
They’ve stopped phones being allowed in the warehouse – maybe to stop us taking photos? A union rep has said Boohoo should shut down but they won’t allow a union to step foot on-site – they never have done.”
Spain have finally been forced to shut down all non-essential work as the death rate continues to rise. In Italy, there’s been a general strike to force the closure of non-essential work as the death rate continues to rise there too. In both countries they’re not doing it for long enough – but depite the UK being on an even faster rise in the number of deaths, the Government still does nothing at all to stop non-essential work.
Two completely unnecessary construction jobs still continuing in Brighton.
The first picture is a job building 25 loft style 1,2, and 3 bedroom luxury apartments. They are being built by Bright Heights (brightheights.co.uk) and sold through estate agent Oakley Property (oakleyproperty.com) – you’ll find emails and phone numbers on the website if you want to complain – pretty obvious we don’t need anyone building luxury flats at the moment.
The second two pictures are from a Willmott Dixon £14m contract to redevelop Greater Brighton Metropolitan College’s Pelham Street site.
What’s the point of continuing with this right now when all schools and colleges are shut anyway?
The scheme has been made possible by a £5 million Local Growth Funding Grant awarded by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Coast to Capital. LEPs are local business led partnerships between local authorities and businesses – which means Brighton Council are still allowing construction projects to continue, and taxpayers are paying for coronavirus to be spread unnecessarily.
In fact, local authorities are by far the biggest comissioners of construction projects in the country, so as well as contacting Brighton Council about this project, contact your local council and ask if they are shutting down all the construction projects they’re involved in.
11) Orsted Wind Farm Project
Just up the road from Grimsby on the Humber, Orsted are building the biggest wind farm in the world, Hornsea 2. It’s a massive site with up to 200 workers. Balfour Beatty is principal contractor on the project – no wonder it’s still open. putting lives at risk daily
A worker told us on Monday: “The workforce are still there working together having food together etc, just like the construction canteen photos being posted. In the morning there’s a briefing in a room with up to 70 people in a room for about 20 minutes.
“The workforce are from all over UK and Europe who go home on Fridays to return Monday. People coughing and still alowed to work. There was a scaffolder who got sent home for coughing badly then returned within a few days and would you believe it he was on the gate leaning into people’s cars with a heat gun recording temperatures! One older worker recorded a high temperature, also had a cough – but was allowed to go on site. It’s shocking – that’s why some walked! But most stayed.
“Someone wrote in the toilets, ‘PROFIT BEFORE LIVES. THIS SITE SHOULD BE SHUT DOWN!’ – An ABB boss saw it and threatened everyone next morning with their jobs. He said its not good if client sees it.”
Well, hopefully the client, Orsted will see it now. ABB also say in their publicity, “Any issues, contact Chris Dale (project manager) 07922 579217.”
This also brings up another important issue. Once we’re through the coronavirus crisis, we will need to get onto solving the climate crisis. If we are going to have a just transition away from fossil fuels that benefits workers rather than bosses, we need to sort out employers like this. Put renewable energy in public control with good unionised jobs – not in the hands of privateers whose only motive is profit.