Agency to supply UK contractors with overseas workers, who will remain employees in their country of origin
Major contractors are investigating proposals to employ workers from central Europe at cheaper rates than those in the UK, using a service set up last month when border controls were relaxed.

The service is offered by an employment agency called Montbretia, which is entirely legal. The firm is in talks with several members of the Major Contractors Group about hiring staff for future projects.

Under the scheme, construction companies in eastern Europe would hire staff to British companies on a subcontract basis using the agency as a broker. The effect of this would be that a British firm that used a worker through the agency would have no responsibility for their employment conditions. This would mean, for instance, that it would have no liability for taxation and health and safety training.

Montbretia claims the foreign labour will come from established construction firms in eastern Europe.

The workers will be taxed by the east European firms so UK companies will have no involvement

Montbretia document

It says that the firms from which staff will be recruited are affiliated to reputable trade associations, similar to the Major Contractors Group in the UK.

An information document for British contractors produced by Montbretia said that a firm in the UK could negotiate the wage rate of any member of staff that it wished to employ with their employer in eastern Europe.

The document said: "The costs will be for UK building and construction companies to negotiate direct with the eastern European companies, but you [British firms] can expect to pay a lower cost."

The document noted, however, that if a worker was paid significantly less than the UK market rate they would be free to go to another firm. But the document added: "There should be a middle ground where rates are attractive to all parties" Montbretia said that there would be at least one English speaker in any group of workers sent over to the UK. This person would normally be the foreman. But the document noted that: "Members [clients] will have the option of accepting a greater or lesser degree of English competency."

Montbretia says the construction firms in eastern Europe will remain responsible for taxing workers. The information document says: "UK companies will deal with the eastern European companies that have an appropriate CIS certification. The workers will be employees of, and be taxed by, the east European company, so UK companies will have no involvement with their tax."

This could anger unions, which have concerns over the safety and employment status of foreign staff.