Foreign workers play a vital role in construction, and to protect them from exploitation more needs to be done to regulate pay and conditions as well as improve health and safety training

Nobody knows for sure how many migrant workers are in the UK’s construction industry, but the figure could equal one-tenth of the workforce.

Unions UCATT and the TUC, client groups and other industry stakeholders have all raised concerns about the level of unregulated labour in construction.

UCATT says it has represented migrant workers who have been paid £2.50 an hour and is pressing the government and leading clients to insist that all construction workers are Construction Skills Certification Scheme-registered.

A Considerate Constructors Scheme survey in February this year revealed that few of the migrant workers on sites had a work permit, but most paid tax because of an anomaly in the system. The Inland Revenue has a policy of giving temporary Construction Industry Scheme Four (CIS4) cards to anyone who asks, irrespective of nationality.

Only a permanent CIS4 card, which carries a National Insurance number, is proof of the right to work, but many subcontractors overlook this fact – or are confused by the system. UCATT is lobbying government to close such loopholes as part of a tax overhaul.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, says, “I welcome migrant workers to the UK, but it is unacceptable that when they come, they are exploited on appalling wages. I will be continuing the good work of my predecessor George Brumwell to ensure that migrant workers receive the appropriate training and employment conditions.”

It’s also vital that non-English speakers are given language support. Stephen Wright, construction policy adviser at the Health and Safety Executive, says: “Workers are at risk if they cannot understand health and safety information, method statements or warning signs because of differing languages.

Investors in People

Investors in People (IiP) provides a framework for improving business performance by developing people. The result of following IiP principles is that what people can do and are motivated to do, matches what the organisation needs them to do.The IiP standard has four key principles:

  • Commitment to invest in people to achieve business goals;

  • Planning how skills, individuals and teams are to be developed to achieve these goals;

  • Action to develop and use necessary skills in a continuous programme directly tied to business objectives;

  • Evaluating outcomes of training and development for individuals' progress towards goals, the value achieved and future needs.

IiP does not stop with initial recognition and assessors will periodically visit an IiP firm to ensure its standards are still being met. CITB-ConstructionSkills provides funding to help construction firms go through the IiP process. And CITB-ConstructionSkills' Blueprint for Building Performance, a framework for enhancing business performance through improving the contributions of people, also helps companies achieve the standard.

Case Study - 4M Flooring

4m Flooring, industrial and commercial flooring specialists, was awarded Investors in People in 1998 and had the standard confirmed in 2002. A subsidiary of contractor Seddon Group, the Crewe-based company turns over £6m a year and has 40 employees.

Mark Holden, managing director at 4m Flooring, explains what gaining Investors in People means for his business.

We applied for IiP after we realised that we were already following the standard's principles such as ensuring equality of opportunity for all staff and investing in high quality training. Gaining the IiP standard was a way to tell prospective staff and clients that we invested in our staff.

It took six months to go through the IiP process. One person was appointed as co-ordinator and then it was very much up to individual staff members to fill in the appropriate paper work.

Without a doubt, IiP status has been a benefit to the business. It's a highly recognised symbol and proves that when we say we invest in staff, we mean it. That's useful in a competitive labour market such construction. Not that IiP has solved all our recruitment headaches. We still find it hard to find good people for our apprenticeship schemes. Ideally we'd take on four a year but we're lucky to appoint one. Young people don't seem to want to work the shifts we sometimes work. But for those who do join, they can feel reassured they will be a valued employee trained to the highest industry standards."

Need an incentive? how to access cash for training

This summer, CITB-ConstructionSkills launched a campaign to develop a training culture among employers.

Called a training plan, it caters for all a company's training needs for a 12-month period. Employers do an audit of their employees' needs, write a training plan with the help of CITB-ConstructionSkills. Companies receive between £500 and £5000 as a down payment for submitting the plan, and then £17.50 for each day a member of staff spends in training. Another grant is received six months into the plan and then a final grant at the end of the year.

The plan is designed to help employers think carefully about the future needs of their business. Nick Mackin, CITB-ConstructionSkills campaigns manager, says: "It might be that a builder would like to move into housebuilding, and its staff will need to be able to roof. The plan would allow them to train for this."

To draw attention to training grants, CITB-ConstructionSkills launched a football-themed advertising campaigning (pictured) and sent out 60,000 direct mails about the scheme. Mackin says calls to the training campaign's hotline have exceeded expectations.

Help is at hand

ConstructionSkills is supporting migrant workers in the following ways:

  • Health and safety teaching materials have been translated into other languages

  • Site rules leaflets have been published in 16 different languages

  • An induction flipchart has been created that uses images to convey the importance of health and safety issues

  • The National Construction College now offers translated one-day health and safety awareness course (see Terminal 5 case study, right)


The SSA consultations are investigating how foreign qualifications can be evaluated against UK national occupational standards and how mutual recognition could be offered for vocational qualifications.

Case Study - Heathrow's terminal 5

ConstructionSkills was approached in early 2004 by the Terminal 5 project team (Laing O'Rourke, Construction Learning World and BAA) for advice about how to help their second-language workers pass the Construction Skills Certification Scheme's health and safety test. If the workers failed, they would not be allowed on site.Generally, the T5 team were getting pass rates of about 40% on their second-language candidates. So, ConstructionSkills arranged for the National Construction College (NCC) to run a one-day health and safety courses for these workers. The courses were delivered by NCC instructors in English and an externally sourced interpreter translated it into the appropriate foreign language. This goes both ways, as the candidates can ask questions as they go along. The T5 team ran the first course for 20 Punjabi speakers on 2 June. They tested them on 9 and 10 June with a 100% pass rate. They then ran the course with 20 Portuguese speakers on 14 June and again achieved a 100% pass rate.

Other benefits to the training, beyond the excellent pass rate, are that more individuals are able to take the test in one day. The T5 team would normally put eight foreign language speakers through an interpreted test each day; it is now averaging 12-14 people. The team also report an increase in morale, with foreign workers feeling more valued by their employer, because companies have shown a clear commitment to protecting their well-being and future. The NCC is now lined up to deliver courses at T5 in German, Romanian and possibly Polish, and intends to extend the scheme to other interested companies around the UK.