BUILD July 2017

32 BUILD / July 2017 , cumbersome bureaucracy of visas and permits, the Swiss decided on internal controls compliant with EU rules and based on a requirement that, for instance, in some cases firms should advertise posts with local job centres. Qualification requirements for particular jobs and ID checks on social security contributions are other options. Then why doesn’t the UK consider this alternative approach? Construction has always been an important sector for migration and this has contributed to innovation and the development of a highly qualified workforce. The large construction firms have also become increasingly international, in particular those constructing major infrastructure and engineering projects, so that we are all now familiar with the likes of Vinci, Skanska, Holcim and Bouygues. Large infrastructure projects such as the London Underground Jubilee Line extension, Crossrail, the Gotthard Tunnel and Thames Tideway are inconceivable without the internationalisation of firms and the labour force. Following the Brexit vote, where are the estimated 31,350 new construction workers required every year in the UK and the annual recruitment requirement of 157,000 people iii over the next five years to come from? One possibility is through training. However, as the industry’s reliance on free movement has increased, employers and the UK government - unlike in many other leading European countries - have slowly abdicated from responsibility for the vocational education and training (VET) of the workforce, relying instead on ‘poaching’ from VET systems elsewhere in Europe. The number of construction trainees and those undertaking an apprenticeship in the UK has plummeted and is now at an historical low, at a time of greater prefabrication, mechanisation and digitalisation, when the workforce is required to be ever more qualified. In 2015/6, for example, the number of trainees in the wood trades, an occupation in high demand, was 4,316 in Britain, down from 5,893 in 2013/4, whilst those in bricklaying declined from 3,313 to 2,614 in the same period; only 66% of those in wood trades and 44% of bricklayers are following an apprenticeship programme. Only 16% of all construction trainees too are pursuing a National Qualification Level 3 qualification, equivalent to three years training, which is the standard in much of mainland Europe and in some countries even the minimum construction qualification level iv . Such UK training figures are not surprising, given that 88% of construction firms employ under 13 people and only 0.8% more than 113, hardly providing a sound and broad-based training and work experience infrastructure v . Added to this an estimated 50% of construction workers are self- employed and thus in no position to train others vi . The lack of regulation of VET by successive British governments is also evident with respect to employment rights and working conditions in construction in Britain, an area in which has relied on EU directives. The fairly comprehensive and structured set of health and safety directives over thirty years has significantly contributed to a lower number of fatalities and a safer working environment. There have been no ‘home grown’ UK health and safety laws in this period, though there has of course been UK involvement in developing these directives through representation in the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Social Dialogue (representatives of the trade unions and employers associations at European level). Indeed, the Social Dialogue has been a means by which employee participation and coordination across Europe has been facilitated, another being European Works Councils. It is thanks to such procedures that we have the Construction Design and Management Regulations, to facilitate the coordination and management of health and safety issues on sites, as well as the Working Time Directive, the first attempt to regulate working time in Britain. The latter introduced paid holidays and breaks and, were it not for the ‘opt out’ demanded by the UK government, maximum working hours, and hence a better work- life balance and more inclusive working environment. The danger is that the construction sector in Britain may pay a high price for Brexit, including chronic skill shortages, low wages, deteriorating health and safety, long hours, and continued male -domination. The puzzle remains though how a global construction sector dependent on the European labour market, regulation, and know-how can continue to thrive if external border controls instead of internal controls are imposed. i. Rolfe H. and Hudson-Sharp (2016) The impact of free movement on the labour market: case studies of hospitality, food processing and construction, National Institute of Economic and Social Research ii. Vasco Pedrina, ‘Equal Rights and Wages for Migrant Workers: the Example of the Battles in Switzerland’, CLR News, 1/2015; Margarida Perieran, ‘Supporting Migrants in Switzerland: the role of the trade unions’, CLR News, 4/2007 iii. CITB, Industry Insights: Brexit Construction Skills Network Report, CITB/ Experien October 2016 iv. CITB, Training and the Built Environment 2016, Construction Industry Training Board v. Figures from Office of National Statistics: Construction Statistics: Annual Tables, 2016 vi. See: self-employment