Revealed: Most construction workers admit they would go to work with COVID
Most construction workers admitted they would go to work despite COVID-19, a Building News survey found.
Some 59% of respondents said financial pressures meant they would continue to go to work despite testing positive.
A further 15% said they would “probably” go to work under the same circumstances, with just 18% saying “no” they would definitely not go.
The survey, conducted through CN’s LinkedIn, received votes from 3,120 people.
Respondents said they would feel compelled to continue working due to financial pressures such as rising gas prices, rising costs of living and the constraints of being self-employed. Many also said changes to COVID-19 guidelines and sick pay rules would force them in.
Construction workers are entitled to statutory sick pay if they are unable to work. It is set at £99.35 per week. In the construction industry, when workers work under an industry collective agreement, they are entitled to ‘industry sick pay’ of up to £180 a week for 13 weeks, in addition to the statutory sickness benefit.
However, the rules on sick pay related to COVID-19 changed in March. Prior to March 24, workers were entitled to statutory sick pay if they could not work because they self-isolated for one of the following reasons:
- They had symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) or tested positive;
- Someone in their household has shown symptoms or tested positive;
- They were told to self-isolate by an NHS test and trace service; or
- Their doctor had advised them to stay home before going to hospital for surgery.
Since March 24, workers are no longer entitled to statutory sick pay to self-isolate, unless they are unwell and sick.
Trade Union Unite national manager Jerry Swain said he found the results of the NC poll “unsurprisingly” and it was likely that the “real number” was higher.
“Most construction workers don’t have substantial savings. If they [are] catch COVID, they are left with the difficult choice of self-isolating or being able to eat and pay the bills,” Swain said.
He added that the statutory sick pay of £99.35 a week did not include the first three days of illness. Even if a worker was entitled to sick pay, the money was not credited for several days after the initial illness.
Swain also echoed concerns about being sick while self-employed, saying: “Construction work is very precarious and a lot of the workforce is classified as self-employed so employers avoid paying employee national insurance contributions, so won’t even get that. totally inadequate sickness benefits, in addition to workers’ fears of losing their jobs or being laid off as soon as possible in the event of illness.
National Federation of Builders (NFB) housing and planning policy manager Rico Wojtulewicz reiterated his concerns about the lack of financial support in the event of illness.
“We continue to receive calls from members regarding the industries COVID site operating procedures, so protecting workers from infection is always taken seriously. However, with much of the self-employed sector, more sick leave and self-isolation [having] finished, there is always a higher risk that people will choose to work, even if they test positive.
He added: “This reality has not been helped by the many government building related tax increases, most recently on diesel, more [the] general crisis in the cost of living and inflation, to which our industry is highly exposed.
Meanwhile, the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) director of legal and business affairs, Rob Driscoll, said the pattern of continued work throughout the pandemic came from above.
“From day one of the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson specifically told construction to continue,” he said. “With mandatory testing and restrictions removed, contractors and their employees are now in the embarrassing position of having to deliver, with no safeguards for not doing so.”
Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) chief executive Alasdair Reisner said members are working to manage the risk of COVID and support employees who are absent with symptoms.
Reisner noted, “No one should be forced to come to work when sick, both from an infection control perspective, but also because of the job safety impacts of becoming unwell.”
A handful of commentators on the poll also claimed that construction workers had worked with COVID-19 throughout the two-year pandemic and the trend was nothing new.
A machine operator at a demolition contractor said he was ‘almost sure most of the construction industry kept working’ throughout the pandemic, while a systems engineer added: ‘ We’ve been doing this for two years.”
A Huddersfield-based chartered surveyor said the issue was more nuanced and “[it] depends on your function, your level of responsibility and your environment”.
In the week to March 26, data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that 4.9 million Britons were infected with COVID-19, a record level of infection since the pandemic took hold. first struck two years ago. This figure meant that one in 13 people in the UK had tested positive at the time. The number of people infected has since dropped and the weekly average over the past seven days was around 23,000.