11am Sunday morning, 12 April, flowers are laid to mourn construction workers who will lose their lives unnecessarily during the coronavirus pandemic.
The respectful ceremony took place at the ‘Building Worker’ bronze statue at Tower Hill, which was commissioned as a memorial for all those who have died on building sites by the construction union UCATT (now a part of UNITE). The symbolic event was to mourn the dead, but also the fight for the living, and was carried out as part of the mass #ShutTheSites movement that has been trending on social media for the past 2 weeks, calling for non-essential building sites to be closed.
Video link: https://youtu.be/5zuNNCEijFo
A new Shut The Sites FaceBook page was launched on Saturday: https://www.facebook.com/ShutTheSites/
Shut The Sites issued the following statement:
“The Bronze Building Worker statue has for many years been a memorial for workers who have died on construction sites. Flowers have been respectfully laid today to mourn the dead. But in this time of crisis we should also fight to protect the living. None of us want to be here in 6 months time laying a bigger wreath to thousands of construction workers and their family members who may lose their lives unnecessarily.
If construction workers are building a Nightingale Hospital or carrying out emergency maintenance on vital infrastructure, that’s clearly crucial to fight this pandemic. But hundreds of thousands of building workers are being forced to continue working on building sites by greedy developers and employers in order to build luxury flats, hotels and powers stations that will not be completed for at least another 5 years. None of these are essential.
Construction workers often travel on packed public transport or in shared minibuses, eat together in site canteens, live in huge site accommodation blocks and generally work in close proximity. No building worker in the country believes that construction can continue in any meaningful manner while complying with the 2m social distancing rules. Major contractors also have an appalling track record on health and safety; over decades they have sacked and blacklisted those prepared to stand up for the safety of their fellow workers. By keeping non-essential building sites open, the government and businesses are prioritizing profit above public health.
No construction worker wants to put their families lives at risk or add more burden to the NHS. The UK government should immediately close all non-essential building sites. But they also need to ensure that every single worker, whether an employee, self-employed or an agency worker, is paid straight away. We need to protect our families, but we also need to put food on the table.
Rather than forcing construction workers to choose whether to protect their families or pay their bills, the government should suspend all mortgage, rent, interest payments and penalty clauses for the next 3 months (as has already been done in Italy) and pay everyone a universal basic income (as has occurred in Hong Kong and is being proposed by the Spanish government)”.
The memorial protest comes at the same time as the government issued new advice that 2m social distancing will no longer need to be strictly applied in the construction industry, but instead recommends that workers are kept two metres apart “as much as possible”. This is in stark contrast to guidance from the Scottish Government, which has ordered the closure of all non-essential construction.
Construction workers have been voicing their opposition to keeping non-essential building sites open on social media and a number of videos from across the UK have been collated and now appear on the attached .
For press interviews contact: ShutTheSites@gmail.com
A full risk assessment was carried out before the protest which identified potential hazards and control measures were implemented to remove the risk
- Only 2 workers involved to comply with government guidelines (many more wanted to attend)
- Event coincided with a trip to buy food
- 2m social distancing at all times
- Participants arrived by private transport rather than the packed tube
- PPE worn
The protest with two construction workers could be deemed unlawful. The irony being that thousands of construction workers, often lacking PPE, packed onto building sites across the UK is being actively encouraged by the government.