In a week of high-profile discussions on immigration in general and the future of migrant workers in British construction in particular, we examine what the industry is doing to solve the problems
The immigration debate rages on. At the EU summit in Seville, Spain, Britain’s proposals to punish countries that do not help to stem the flow of illegal aliens were watered down by other EU states. And in a tough weekend for Tony Blair, the government's controversial plans to provide accommodation centres for would-be refugees were also criticised by other EU members.

The confusion as to how to deal with illegal immigrants is mirrored at industry level. There was mixed reaction in the construction industry to the government’s proposals for a short-term work visa for overseas workers. UCATT thought it would lead to casualisation of the workforce, whereas the Construction Confederation took a more positive line and said it would provide an opportunity to legitimise the UK’s foreign workforce.

The Construction Confederation has already turned its attention to the health and safety of non-English speakers on UK building sites. Recent guidance issued last month aims to make employers aware of the risks of language barriers to non-English speakers and other staff on building sites.

The guidance says that employers need to assess the risk of each activity where the ability to understand and speak English is critical. The CC includes signalling and tasks that require permits among the “critical activities” unsuitable for non-English speakers.

One way around the problem of communication is to have non-English speakers working together in small manageable groups headed by an interpreter, says the report. The CC suggests using outside translators from local community groups if there is nobody in the company who can act as interpreter.

Other measures intended to safeguard the integration of non-English speakers include: the allocation of low-risk work, the use of pictorial signs, more training and supervision, and using external translators for written material. The CC also suggests that non-English speakers should not be allowed to work alone or be allocated safety-critical roles.

It’s a tricky subject, but at least this is a step in the right direction. The construction industry can’t afford to wait for European politicians to solve the complex problems of illegal immigration. It must be up to bodies such as the CC to safely integrate the overseas workers that are already working in the UK and contributing to the country’s building boom.