There is some debate about whether this is a good thing or not. Not, according to our columnist John Smith (6 February, page 33). He argues that contractors hire immigrants to undercut domestic labour – and QSs will attest that workers from the east are keeping tender prices in check. But with unemployment at 3%, it's hard to see the industry recruiting the 400,000 workers it will need by 2008 from school-leavers. And it's not just a question of quantity. Foreign workers possess skills sadly lacking here – steel fixing, for example. The bottom line, though, is that globalised labour is unstoppable, and – frankly – the sign of a vibrant economy.
The problem in construction – as in cockle picking – is that immigration labour is unregulated, and so unprotected, leaving the workers at the mercy of gangmasters. Part of the solution is to make Brumwell's CSCS cards mandatory. Nearly one-third of the industry's workforce – 600,000 people – own one, and this ensures that basic safety standards are adhered to. The only adaptation for immigrant workers would be to extend the test to cover basic English. Those who opposed David Blunkett's citizenship test may regard this as intrusive, but the justification is obvious.
That said, CSCS cards alone won't drive out the gangmasters – not when you can buy one for £25, no questions asked. Both contractors and the authorities must get smarter and tougher. All site gates should have iris-recognition software so contractors can verify who's who. And the Home Office must insist on more safety inspections, more police raids and tougher penalties for offenders – heftier fines, even jail. Anything to avoid Morecambe Bay happening to us.
You can work it outTo celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’ve dredged up the Mr & Mrs quiz (pages 40-45). We didn’t dare put anyone from Construction House in the booth, though. The marriage between the top 10 firms and their partners in the Major Contractors Group is on the rocks, and it threatens to tear the Construction Confederation family apart (see news). Trouble is, a globetrotter like Mowlem has little in common with a homebody like Gleeson, and the big boys want their freedom. Okay, but it doesn’t mean you can’t see each other any more, does it? Maybe you can even live under the same Con Con roof, but with, like, your own room. If you walk out, you’ll leave all the little ’uns with no money. Yeah, it might be fun to revive the Dorchester Club. But, hey, those days are gone. You’ve grown up now. You’ve got responsibilities. And, y’know, you’re stronger together.
Adrian Barrick, editor