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Johnson accused of committing ‘social murder’ after calling construction industry back to work

Grassroots campaigners Shut the Sites urge workers to ask bosses for a Covid-19 risk assessment

GRASSROOTS campaigners have accused Boris Johnson of “social murder” after he called for the construction industry to return to work. 

Shut the Sites (STS) campaign members set out their demands to the Prime Minister after he said those in the industry should be “actively encouraged to go to work” despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Site workers say social distancing is all-but impossible in the industry, and that in the absence of mass-testing the government is taking chances with people’s lives. 

Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that keeping sites open has led to construction workers dying at three times the rate of healthcare professionals. 

Workers fear that hundreds more will die if the policy is allowed to continue and are demanding that all non-essential construction sites are closed immediately. 

Open University social-policy department head Professor Steve Tombs said: “The government, HSE and Public Health England must know that on site, and as they travel to and from work, construction workers are exposed to, and are unwitting carriers of, coronavirus. 

“In my view, it is criminal negligence, it is manslaughter, it is social murder.”

The criticism was raised as part of an online video featuring health-and-safety experts, academics and people in the industry, including the daughter of one man forced to return to work who now fears for his safety. 

Alongside the closure of building sites, campaigners are also pushing for all workers to be paid irrespective of whether they are employees, self-employed or agency workers.

Employment-relations Professor Sian Moore  said: “If the government wants to protect public health it needs to pay construction workers to stay at home.”

Construction worker Tony Seaman added: “Self-employed and agency workers should be paid as well. No-one should be left in poverty.”

STS is a grassroots movement set up by a group of construction workers including an electrician, engineer, bricklayer and project manager. 

The group has become the voice of workers who feel they cannot speak out due to concerns over blacklisting, with those still on site being encouraged to join a union and take action collectively to protect themselves. 

STS and construction workers recognise the need for some essential work to continue, but they say this must be done under the highest possible level of health and safety to protect staff. 

Under Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, as well as Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act, staff have the legal right to remove themselves from the workplace if they feel their health and safety is being put at risk. 

Construction workers are now being advised to ask for Covid-19 risk assessments.

STS member Lizzie Williams, a project manager, said: “We have too many big companies especially putting profit before lives and that’s a breach of their statutory duty of care. 

“If you are working on a site, ask for your Covid-19 risk assessment.”  

The government had not responded to requests for comment as the Star went to press.

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