Crossrail emails reveal untold worker abuses

Crossrail contractor shockingly admits in revealing emails to:

  • Abuse of workforce to exhaustion levels
  • Toilets 1 hour walk away- No basic facilities
  • Targeting of employees who complain
  • Sinister circulation of images of employees and union officials
  • Basic safety laws flouted according to senior in-house engineer

Finally – after shameful delays and supposedly misplaced emails – UCATT has secured the proof that the main Crossrail contractor, the Costain-led ATC consortium, has not only been flogging its workforce to levels of exhaustion and neglecting basic welfare facilities but also illicitly the images of Crossrail workers and union activists.

In a chilling echo of the construction industry blacklisting case, where constructors had to pay out almost £6m to blacklisted workers, two workers photographed outside the Crossrail Fisher Road tunnelling site have subsequently suffered serious victimisation. UCATT knows that the photograph, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, featuring the two workers was widely distributed by Crossrail. Many of the major constructors found guilty of large-scale, coordinated blacklisting, and who ruined innocent construction workers’ lives – are now working on Crossrail. 

The tawdry behaviour of the main contractor Costain-ATC which propelled this major UK infrastructure project into disrepute, was finally revealed when a Freedom of Information request – which had to be vigorously pursued by UCATT– showed that this flagship construction project was nothing of the sort. The company’s own Project Construction Engineer said ATC must do more for worker welfare and that basic Health and Safety Executive guidelines (Construction Design Management guidelines) aren’t being complied with. He said two hours per shift are lost walking to the toilet.

One email from Nicola Brown the Employee Industrial Relations Manager at ATC, that UCATT secured stated:

“Lack of/ no welfare in tunnel. No toilets in tunnel this morning and no communication to workforce. 2 miles walking to toilet. Current mood on site – workforce are exhausted, physically and mentally.”

The revelations that workers had to walk two miles to go to the toilet and that workers were physically and mentally exhausted, came on the back of ATC’s determination to obstruct unions and restrict access to the Crossrail sites. The first industrial flashpoint that caused UCATT to step up scrutiny of ATC and Crossrail was when workers lost wages due to the failure of the biometric payment system and ATC refused to discuss the issue with unions.

ATC produced a draconian list of unfeasible requirements to keep UCATT off site. The lengthy list of hurdles included: Union officials had to make appointments five days in advance and then be accompanied by an ATC employee at all times; meetings were only allowed at the end of a shift not during normal breaks; no union access to the canteen; and a written description of the specific reason for the meeting and who the union was meeting with, had to be submitted. In addition, (during a peaceful protest in October at the ATC Plumstead depot) union activists suffered intimidation by security personnel and lorry drivers who threatened to run them over.

UCATT Regional Secretary for London and the South East, Jerry Swain, was scathing about the attitude of ATC and Crossrail: “These internal emails reveal only too clearly why ATC and Crossrail didn’t want UCATT on site. This supposed flagship construction project for the UK is one big, long list of abuses by management towards the workers. Not only that, ATC and Crossrail have then sought to cover-up this shambles by keeping unions off site and targeting those involved in peaceful protests.”

Mr Swain added: “UCATT is just trying to represent its members who had lost pay, had nowhere to go to the toilet and were being put under unlawful amounts of pressure, causing exhaustion. We were doing this entirely within the law, so we don’t expect physical and verbal intimidation. The Government, Transport for London and the Mayor’s office need to step in and get a grip on Crossrail and the main contractor ATC, because both parties are dragging this high-profile project through the mud and mistreating their highly dedicated and skilled workforce.”

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