Lack of direct employment is responsible for the current crisis in recruitment, warns BAA’s Terminal 5 project director.

Speaking at the BRE’s second annual conference on the subject of Respect for People, Norman Haste said: “The decline is precipitated by the wholesale move to subcontracted labour. The unions have a very important role. I am a supporter of trade unions and share the commitment to the values of direct employment because it creates loyalty and pride in the workforce.”

Haste went on to add that if the skills shortage wasn’t addressed quickly there would not be enough operatives to carry out the large schemes planned for London and the South-east.

“For some projects, clients may well find they have to go abroad for the skills needed,” he said. “I don’t believe that there are sufficient resources in London and the South-east to support the needs of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and Terminal 5.”

Respect for People is an initiative set up by the Movement for Innovation to encourage people to join the industry and then stay in it. In particular, the aim is to recruit more women and ethnic minorities, partly by improving the industry’s horrendous health and safety record and poor site conditions.

Alan Crane, chairman of the Movement for Innovation, warned the industry that if it did not manage to improve working conditions and safety records, and attract a labour force other than white males, construction would not be able to continue much longer in business.

“A change of attitudes will be crucial to profit and even survival. This is the most urgent challenge,” said Crane.

There was great disappointment that construction minister Beverley Hughes was unable to attend the conference to deliver the keynote speech. The minister was at the House of Commons delivering the Local Government Bill to Parliament.