“James Alexander supporting High Speed 2”| Photo: York Labour – Flickr | cropped from original | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 | license linked at bottom of article “James Alexander supporting High Speed 2”| Photo: York Labour – Flickr | cropped from original | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 | license linked at bottom of article

Workers on the High Speed 2 construction project are taking action to defend the welfare of workers, writes Carole Vincent

Controversy again surrounds HS2 construction companies Skanska, Costain and new partners STRABAG, who have ‘derailed’ where the safety of workers at their sites around the country are concerned.

They have reneged on agreements made with Unions on behalf of construction workers. These members are in Unite the Union, RMT, Aslef, GMB and other unions whose job is to take the safety of their members as paramount.

It is for this reason that more than a hundred members and organisers of Unite the Union, including Unite Community branches from all over the country, descended upon the Euston main site entrance in North West London today.

There were red Unite flags flying along the Hampstead road and Euston site, and a rally with speeches from Jerry Swain, national organiser for construction, Peter Kavanagh, Unite’s London regional secretary, and Unite General Secretary candidate Steve Turner, as well as testimonials from workers and organisers around the country relating to terrible accidents and deaths in a virtually unregulated construction industry in Britain today. 

It is clear that the ‘blacklisting’ experienced in the past is still present and worker safety is not a priority for these companies, nor the government who keep giving our money to this project. 

It’s profit and greed these companies strive for, which is not what the workers need. They need safe working conditions & decent pay, terms & conditions! 

The crux of this action, launched by Unite today, relates to agreements with the companies herein to allow Unite and other union reps on their sites to check safety and complete risk assessments. 

However, Skanska, Costain and STRABAG are not allowing Union reps to represent their members who are being put at risk on all sites covered by the HS2 construction. 

The protest caused construction vehicles to be blocked in for several hours and unable to leave the site whilst the chanting continued. 

As security staff wearing body cams prevented access to the site by protesters, the police arrived but kept a low profile as Jeremy Corbyn came to speak in support of workers safety. He also highlighted the rising cost of the HS2 project and its devastating effects on communities, whether in Euston or on the route to Birmingham. 

As the protest ended, the Unite organisers & reps await a response from Skanska, Costain and STRABAG before deciding its next course of action. 

This is a key issue for all workers in the construction industry and underlines how the profit motive too often comes at the expense of safety and accountability.  Let’s hope workers and their unions can tip the balance.

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