Long hours culture and not flexible working ‘should be construction’s priority’

With a number of major contractors now embracing flexible working for their directly employed staff construction union Unite is calling on firms to switch their focus towards tackling the sector’s long hours culture.

pioneering study into flexible working on construction sites, which involved BAM Nuttall, BAM Construct UK, Willmott Dixon and Skanska, recently found that the practice boosted workforce wellbeing with no adverse impact on budget or programme. 

Arup is also to adopt an innovative hybrid model that means staff could opt to work some of their contracted hours over a weekend rather than solely across the traditional Monday to Friday pattern.

While Unite said it recognises that flexible working is beneficial for workers who can access the scheme, the union believes that long hours is a much bigger factor in preventing workers from enjoying a decent work life balance.

Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “Of course Unite recognises the benefits of flexible working but for the vast majority of those in the construction industry such policies are not relevant or applicable.

“Site workers in construction companies’ contract supply chains will either not be eligible for flexible working schemes or can’t use them as they have to be at work at set times.

“If construction is truly serious about improving the work life balance of its entire workforce then it must tackle the long hours culture.

“In order for such a policy to be successful it needs to address pay rates and the tenure of workers.

“The failure of employers to agree an appropriate pay structure, combined with a hire and fire approach for each job, results in workers feeling forced to work all hours they possibly can, as they never know when the next job will begin and what rates of pay they can obtain.

“If the industry is serious about tackling the long hours culture then it should seriously look at how jobs are programmed, with a view to removing the reliance on Saturday working. Weekend working should only be undertaken when a task cannot be carried out in the week or it is required to bring the job back on programme.

“Construction workers should have the same rights to be able to spend time with their loved ones, to relax and recover from seriously demanding work, as the rest of society.

“For far too many construction workers long hours is a constant grim reality that has to be endured and this must change if the industry is ever going to become more attractive to a younger more diverse workforce.”

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