Rogue construction firms face fresh legal crackdown

MIDLOTHIAN Labour MP David Hamilton is bidding to bring in a new law to crack down on rogue firms on building sites.

He is proposing a private member's Bill in the House of Commons which would extend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act – introduced after 23 cockle-pickers died in Morecambe Bay – to cover the construction industry.

It would set minimum standards on safety in a sector with a notoriously bad accident record and stop "cowboy" firms undercutting wages paid by reputable contractors.

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Mr Hamilton secured eighth place in the ballot for private member's Bills, which means there is a good chance of his proposals progressing through the parliamentary process.

He was formally announcing the subject of his Bill today and will then hold talks with interested parties before drawing up the detailed legislation.

Research shows 53 people died in the construction industry across the UK in 2008-09, ten of them in Scotland.

Mr Hamilton, a former miner, said: "Health and safety is an instinctive thing for anyone who has worked in mining.

"Construction is an industry with more fatalities than almost anything else. Some of the figures are comparable with the armed forces."

He said the vast majority of construction firms were good employers who paid well and took health and safety seriously.

But he said there were others who operated on the black market, undercutting pay rates, ignoring safety requirements and not paying tax or insurance.

He said the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act demanded certain working conditions, health and safety, accommodation, contractual arrangements, pay and tax matters and sub-contracting before operators could get a licence. He said: "There is an overwhelming consensus and it has achieved its aims with minimum infringement on business.

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"However, the Act only covered certain sectors, including food processing, packaging, shellfish picking and forestry."

He said extending the law to cover construction would protect workers and even boost Treasury receipts from VAT, National Insurance and PAYE.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, said: "

By extending the Gangmasters Act to construction, rogue agencies will be barred and exploitation will be dramatically diminished."

Mr Hamilton said he believed there would also be support from construction employers who wanted to improve standards in the industry.