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Construction workers fear catching coronavirus on building sites

By Joe Gammie, PA

Construction workers say they feel “angry and unprotected” turning up to building sites following the announcement of stricter coronavirus measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed the UK on lockdown on Monday, ordering people to only leave their homes for “very limited purposes”, banning public gatherings of more than two people, and ordering the closure of non-essential shops.

However, Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said later that work on building sites can continue but workers should practise social distancing.

Construction workers at the Waterside Quarter development site in Maidenhead, Berkshire, the day after PM Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown (Jonathan Brady/PA)

He said: “Advice for the housing, construction and building maintenance industries: if you can work from home, do so.

“If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.

“Outside of work, remember to #StayHomeSaveLives.”

Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey said on Tuesday that it has closed its construction sites, show homes and sale sites due to coronavirus.

The company added: “In the interest of customer and employee safety, we have taken the decision to close all of our show homes, sales centres, and construction sites for all work except that needed to make the sites safe and secure.”

But earlier on Tuesday, rival Redrow said its sites remain open with “strict precautions in place including enhanced levels of cleaning, additional hygiene facilities and social distancing”.

Construction workers told the PA news agency that, although they are scared of catching the virus and taking it home to their families, they are reporting for work because otherwise they will not get paid and risk losing their jobs.

A crane operator at a London construction site with 400 to 500 workers said: “Everyone on site at the minute feels angry and unprotected.”

He said staff have been given no guidance on what was happening other than “just carry on until told otherwise”.

The man, who asked not to be named, said if he opted not to go in he “wouldn’t get paid or even could lose my job”.

“(It’s) scary really – I’ve got a family and kids at home. I’m in London around all these people (who are) bringing it all back into an isolated home.”

(PA Graphics)

Electrician Dan Dobson said the Government must provide support to self-employed workers – including about a million in the construction industry – and then shut down building sites.

He added: “It’s not going to change until support is offered to workers who are registered as self-employed.

“They have no incentive to stay at home, they have bills to pay.

“Everyone on site at the minute feels angry and unprotected.

“None of them want to go to work, everyone is worried about taking it (coronavirus) home to their families.

“But they still have bills to pay, they still have rent to pay, they still have to buy food.

“Construction sites will stay open until the Government issues an order to close.

“But the Government cannot issue the order to close until it offers support to the one million-plus construction workers – it has to go hand in hand.”

Labour MP David Lammy described reports of workers going in on Tuesday morning as “very troubling” and called for construction sites to be closed down.

He tweeted: “Reports of non-essential workers going in this morning are very troubling.

“Government needs to shut down construction sites and make sure other non-essential work is not happening – and urgently provide financial support for the self-employed.

“We must lockdown to save lives.”

Unite union assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said on Monday that photos showing crowded construction canteens will “horrify” the public and that no employee should be put at risk travelling to work.

She added: “Photos of crowded construction canteens will horrify the general public and in particular the loved ones of construction workers who fear for their safety.

“However, with well over a million construction workers being officially registered as self-employed, they have a stark choice of working or they and their families facing hunger.

“No worker should be put at risk by travelling to work, whilst on site, in any welfare area or undertaking any non-critical designated work.”