UCATT lobbies government over Tarmac labour arm's "unethical" contracts.
Tarmac labour arm NCS is under fire from construction union UCATT over a contract that the union says allows workers to be sacked if they miss work through illness.

UCATT general secretary George Brumwell took the issue up at a meeting with Department of Trade and Industry minister Stephen Byers last week.

Building has obtained a copy of a standard contract issued by NCS. It states that workers will "cease to be engaged by the company during absences caused by sickness or illness and accordingly there is no entitlement to SSP [statutory sick pay]." The contract advises workers who fall ill to claim incapacity benefit from their local social security offices.

One construction lawyer said: "It looks very like 'get sick and you're sacked' if you ask me." Brumwell said: "I have already raised the matter with trade secretary Stephen Byers and I intend to write to roads minister Lord Witty." Brumwell, who is also a member of the Health and Safety Commission, said the contracts were a threat to safety.

He said: "Given the knowledge that these workers will be sacked if they miss work through illness, you'll have the dangerous situation of people coming on site while suffering sickness, putting themselves and others at risk." A spokesman for NCS said: "They are not sacked, they just cease to be employed so they can claim incapacity benefit direct from the state." NCS has about 900 operatives on its books, mostly engaged in roadwork and concrete work on sites. Its largest client is parent firm Tarmac.

Brumwell said UCATT would also raise the matter with NCS and Tarmac clients, and would take NCS to an industrial tribunal over the contracts, which he claimed were "unethical".

Under the contract, NCS operatives must pay Class One National Insurance contributions and PAYE tax. The contract also states that each worker is engaged as a labour-only subcontractor. However, both the Contributions Agency and the Inland Revenue regard workers who pay Class One NI and PAYE as employees, not as subcontractors.

Brumwell said this practice of deducting PAYE and Class One NI was to "placate the Inland Revenue while denying NCS workers their statutory employment rights. It's time companies learned the employment status of an operative is not a matter of fact, it's a matter of law."