Building Workers: Lives Before Profits

by Susan Fitzgerald in Socialist Voice, Feb. 2003

A LONE piper followed by the carrying of a sombre black coffin led a demonstration of over 3,000 construction workers through Dublin on 5 February in commemoration of their 22 colleagues killed on unsafe sites in 2002.

There was an angry mood on the demonstration, chants calling for "safe sites, not death traps" along with "subbies out" resounded. The latter chant came from the 1,000 strong BATU contingent who call for direct PAYE employment and make the link between lack of safety and sub contractors who refuse to pay for PAYE work and force workers into bogus self employment. This leads to a breakdown of safety on site, with corners being cut to maximise profits and workers under extra pressure to get the job done as quickly and cheaply as possible.

More people died in construction site accidents than any other sector of the workforce last year. These merited little more than a handful of newspaper articles. If 22 Gardai or doctors had died at their place of work, there would have been a national outrage.

The maximum penalty for those found responsible for workplace accidents is currently 1,900, a meaningless fine for the multi millionaire building bosses.

The safest site is a union organised site. The trade union movement must involve itself in all aspects of health and safety to ensure their members lives and limbs are not sacrificed for a quick buck. Fighting democratic unions, which fight for and put their members' needs and safety before "deals" with employers are the only way that workers can work safely in what is currently a deadly industry.

Socialist Party Demands:

* The immediate introduction of a charge of corporate manslaughter for work related deaths.
* A campaign for unionisation - an organised site is a safer site.
* Direct PAYE employment - cut across the sub contractors.
* An immediate increase in the number of Health and Safety Authority inspectors. Regular inspections and unsafe conditions rectified immediately or the site should be closed.
* Full union involvement in all aspects of safety compliance. Unions to decide if sites are safe for members. Industrial action to shut death trap sites.
* All workers to be involved in ongoing health and safety training - fully paid.

Other industrial/trade union reports are available.