Slave to the Scaffold

Slave to the Scaffold

22nd December 2016

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) is dedicated to working with industry to encourage training in order to ensure that we have a safe, professional and fully qualified workforce here in the UK.  The CITB helps companies to improve workforce skills and increase their competitiveness so that they can respond to 21st Century challenges such as reducing on site costs, recruiting the best talent available and responding to the low carbon agenda.  The CITB recently funded a new anti-slavery training programme that’s designed to stamp out modern day slavery in the construction industry here in the UK.

While you may be thinking that slavery is an issue from history, nothing could be further from the truth – there are victims of slavery right here in the UK, right now.  Modern slavery comes in many different guises and its victims are both British citizens and foreigners, some are even young children!  These people are being exploited as cheap or free labour, as criminals or as objects of sexual gratification – there is no typical type of victim, but they are often the most vulnerable in our society.  In 2014, the Home Office launched a modern slavery marketing campaign in order to raise awareness of the slavery existing in the UK today.

According to the UK Home Office, in 2013, 53 potential victims of trafficking into construction were referred to the authorities.  However, the hidden nature of modern day slavery means that the actual numbers are likely to be much higher than that and businesses now have an obligation to ensure that training about slavery and human trafficking is available to staff under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. 

The Modern Slavery Act means that there is a duty to report the fact if you think somebody is (or has been) a victim of modern slavery.  Let’s just take a quick look at the definition of modern slavery.   It includes slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking.  A person is trafficked if they are brought to (or moved around) a country by others who threaten, hurt, frighten and force them to do work or other things they do not want to do.  The UK government is committed to helping and protecting these vulnerable people once they have been identified. 

The CITB has recently awarded funding to construction companies and the industry’s supply chain to help identify illegal workers and trafficking activities.  The construction industry is one of the largest employers in the UK which makes it a likely target for traffickers and unlicensed gang masters.  While it’s unlikely that large companies directly employ trafficked people, contractors and sub-contractors may find themselves becoming targets of the gang masters who offer a supply of cheap and ready labour.

Modern slavery is a complex issue so over the coming weeks we’ll be taking a look at the legal obligations of employers and providing you with the information you need that will enable you to ensure that your construction company complies with all legislation so that you and your company can avoid the shame (and legal redress) associated with this insidious practice that should have ended with the abolition of slavery which should have ended with the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.