“They just tied a cable around my waist, and the guy on the roof had another cable around his waist and this is how we did things. I had to do it, otherwise they sent me home. If I said I didn’t want to do it, they would say: go home, we’ll find another. And I didn’t have a contract.”
The experience of this construction worker is sadly not uncommon. FLEX research into labour exploitation in the construction industry in London has revealed a wide range of dubious and exploitative practices including withholding wages, non-payment of overtime, high fees for wage processing, unsafe conditions, payment below minimum wage, discrimination and dismissal without reason.
The most vulnerable workers in the construction sector report being too afraid of losing their job to challenge abuse. Work is often precarious, with jobs lasting just days or weeks, leaving many workers reliant on what work they can get to survive. Demand for ‘flexible’ labour is high and pressures to cut costs can result in workers being laid off at a moment’s notice. Informal hiring and firing means insecurity for workers, who know they may have work one day and be sent home the next. This makes many very reluctant to complain about poor working conditions and abusive treatment. Put simply by one worker: “You cannot complain. Or if you do, you can go home.”
In a new briefing, FLEX identifies several key factors contributing to a high level of vulnerability to abuse and exploitation among the construction workforce. These include: rapidly fluctuating demand for workers; extensive subcontracting; use of umbrella companies; informal employment practices and lack of labour rights enforcement. The briefing also sets out some actions which police, labour inspectorates and community organisations in London can take to start to address these problems, and identify and support those experiencing exploitation in the construction sector.
Read the briefing here.