BUILD July 2017

30 BUILD / July 2017 , Brexit and Its Implications for Construction Labour in Britain Professor Linda Clarke, Professor of European Industrial Relations, Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment (ProBE), Westminster Business School, University of Westminster discusses Brexit and its implications for construction labour in Britain. With Brexit dominating the political and news agenda, it is important to consider what implications leaving the European Union (EU) might have for the construction industry, and for construction labour. The first implication relates to the free movement of labour, and the barriers Brexit might pose to the deployment of workers from elsewhere in the EU. It is difficult to estimate the proportion of migrant workers in the construction sector, though this has certainly increased since 2004, largely attributable to the workers coming from East European countries. The latest official figures show that 12% of the workforce of 2.1 million are migrants, of whom the largest share (7%) are from non-EU countries, only 5% coming from elsewhere in the EU i . The largest concentration of migrant labour is in London, representing about half the workforce. However, whilst some of these migrants may be considered as ‘posted workers’ (those working temporarily whether as subcontracted or agency labour or even self-employed), many posted construction workers will not be regarded as migrants. Posted workers are especially prevalent in the increasingly global engineering construction sectors, where much resentment has arisen over the last decade on the part of UK-based workers constructing large projects, including Staythorpe, the Isle of Grain and several biomass power stations. Here, some contractors and subcontractors took free movement as an excuse for wage dumping and for discriminating against the recruitment of UK-based labour – a factor that contributed in no small way to the outcome of the referendum. This position was aggravated by the government’s transposition of the EU Posted Workers Directive, intended to regulate the movement (posting) of labour as opposed to services transnationally, as requiring only minimum legal provisions instead of customary or collectively agreed terms and conditions. Various decisions (Viking, Laval etc.) of the European Court of Justice, giving freedom of competition precedence over fundamental social rights, only added to the boiling resentment on construction sites. The free movement of labour has been to the great advantage of the construction industry across Europe, both for workers and employers, but the intention was never for this to have supremacy over basic social rights. Switzerland provides a good example of an alternative approach. There, 24% of the total population of eight million are migrants, with many working in the construction sector, where almost 60% belong to the union UNIA, of whom 75% are migrant ii . Three years ago in a referendum in Switzerland on immigration, the Swiss narrowly voted to ban Europeans entering to work in the country, and the government was subsequently told by the EU that, if discriminatory measures against Europeans were imposed, then access to the Single Market would be lost. So, instead of controlling immigration through the