High Speed 2 is one of the largest construction projects in the UK. It will cost over £55 billion to complete the project. Given the scope and the prestige of HS2 it would be expected that those behind it would want to ensure that the workers undertaking the work have the best possible conditions.

Sadly that is not the case.

Unite is campaigning:

  1. For all HS2 construction workers to be directly employed and not forced to operate via an exploitative umbrella company
  2. To end the culture of fear and secrecy that pervades HS2 in general and CSJV in particular by allowing Unite access to workers during their breaks.

What you can do

Email HS2 and the CSJV stating your concerns about how construction workers are being treated on this landmark project.

About the campaign

Workers on the southern section of the project which is being undertaken by the Costain-Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV) are allowing workers to be routinely denied direct employment and are forced to operate via exploitative umbrella companies. The CSJV do not employ any workers themselves. Instead they have engaged labour supply company Bowercross Construction Ltd to recruit and supply labour for the site. However much like a ‘cross ferry channel company without any ships’ Bowercross doesn’t have any workers and has to recruit them from an employment agency. Once engaged the workers are then forced to be paid via an exploitative umbrella company. 

At each stage of the recruitment process each company takes their cut which either increases the cost of HS2, decreases workers’ wages, or both.

To make a bad situation worse CSJV has created a culture of fear and secrecy on the project by banning Unite from having normal access to the workforce during their breaks. CSJV are trying to ensure that workers can’t raise concerns about safety, pay, conditions, welfare facilities, blacklisting and bullying.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “HS2 is one of the most high profile construction projects in the UK and there is an agreement between the unions and HS2 that outlaws these types of sharp practices. It would be reasonable to expect HS2’s management would want to ensure that first class workers’ rights exist on this project and as a minimum.”

Workers, who operate via an umbrella company, become in theory both the employer and the employee. As well as having their income tax (20 per cent) and employee’s national insurance contributions (12 per cent) deducted from their pay, employers’ national insurance contributions of (13.8 per cent) is also deducted from the rate negotiated with the employment agency, effectively a tax rate of nearly 46 pence in the pound. On top of this if the worker pays into an auto-enrolment pension they have to pay both the employees (3 per cent) and employer’s (2 per cent) contributions and from April this is rising to 5 per cent and 3 per cent, respectively. Under an umbrella company holiday pay is frequently rolled into the rate, which means that workers get a small amount of holiday pay each week but are not paid when they take holiday. To add insult to injury workers are charged to be paid in this manner. Charges of roughly £20 a week are common.

Unite is campaigning:

  1. For all HS2 construction workers to be directly employed and not forced to operate via an exploitative umbrella company
  2. To end the culture of fear and secrecy that pervades HS2 in general and CSJV in particular by allowing Unite access to workers during their breaks.