Key construction workers must be protected from abuse

Kevin Stewart MSP

SCOTLAND’S housing minister has backed calls to protect key construction workers from abuse as they carry out essential tasks during the lockdown period.

The Construction Industry Coronavirus (CICV) Forum is providing greater visibility on what constitutes ‘essential work’ to prevent such workers being harassed and verbally abused. The forum said its members have reported an increasing number of tradespeople being ‘intimidated and verbally abused’ by the public while carrying out legitimate projects in line with CICV Forum guidelines.

One contractor said, “On one commercial job, our engineers were subjected to a barrage of abuse by residents and staff. Our guys were upset and didn’t want to be there, so in the end, the local authority had to put up posters explaining that we were carrying out essential work. It was the only way our engineers could be left alone to do the work.

“Not all essential obvious work is obvious to the public, but that is no excuse for the behaviour that some of us in the construction industry are having to put up with.”

The forum has now produced a checklist of projects to help the public understand the range of work classified as ‘essential’. It also plans to offer on-site signage to help workers make it clear they are carrying out essential work only.

Kevin Stewart, minister for local government, housing and planning, said such measures were essential to provide clarity and reduce tension between the wider public and workers.

He said, “The general public may not be aware of the full range of projects that constitute ‘essential work’, but these are workers who are performing a vital role safely and responsibly. At a time when the Scottish Government is asking people to remain in their homes it is even more important that these homes are watertight, safe and have essential working facilities, such as water, gas and electricity.

“Builders and plumbers’ merchants are also needed to provide supplies for essential repair and maintenance, such as heating and hot water breakdowns, roofing repairs, and electrical and fire safety.

“It is important that the public understand that there is still a need for essential works to be carried out in these challenging times and industry professionals should be able to complete repairs in safety, without fear of criticism and rebuke.”

John McKinney, secretary of forum members the National Federation of Roofing Contractors, the Stone Federation and the Scottish Contractors Group, agreed. He explained, “Essential construction work is not confined to building a major hospital for Covid-19, but we know that people might not be aware of this. There are dozens of other construction works that are classed as essential to keep the fabric of Scotland intact. At the very least, homes need to be watertight and safe both inside and out for people to be able to live in them. That’s why the construction industry is working hard across Scotland to ensure people can stay at home during these times to protect the NHS.

“Greater understanding is needed among the public to understand that the key workers carrying out such work aren’t flouting the rules – they are performing essential tasks and should be allowed to do so without fear of abuse.”

Essential work that is permitted to be carried out includes removal of elements in danger of collapse, emergency call-outs, repair of critical road infrastructure, and safe operation of faulty heating systems.