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From the organisers of

TUC calls for reform of CIS to help workers

14 May 2008

The TUC\'s Commission on Vulnerable Employment has this month called for reform of the Construction Industry Scheme that it says has trapped UK workers "in a continual round of low-paid and insecure work where mistreatment is the norm".

The construction industry union Ucatt also published a report this month criticising the CIS, which it has long opposed.

Called Evasion Economy by Professor Mark Harvey, a sociologist from the University of Essex, it says HM Revenue & Customs is losing £1.7billion a year in National Insurance and tax as a result of the casualisation of construction.

The TUC\'s Commission on Vulnerable Employment has 16 members drawn from employer, academic, trade union and wider society backgrounds.

Their report, Hard Work, Hidden Lives, condemns some of the practices under the CIS in spite of changes introduced last year intended to make it easier to keep track of who is working in the industry and make bogus self-employment more difficult.

"The vast majority of workers on CIS have the characteristics of employees, as they have set hours, cannot refuse work, have to obey orders and have materials and tools provided. However, many of these workers are classified as self-employed," says the Hard Work, Hidden Lives report.

"Due to their self-employed status, CIS workers have very few statutory employment rights and are denied access to additional workplace benefits."

Ucatt asked a Parliamentary Question in February: how many companies have been fined for having people who are really employees registered as sub-contractors under CIS. The answer was: none.

In the introduction to Hard Work, Hidden Lives the commissioners say they were shocked by the extent of vulnerable work and the fact that much of the poor treatment was legal.

The report says employment practices attacked as exploitative in the 19th century are still common today and that the "poor treatment at work that we have found should not be tolerated".

It is often claimed that self-employment oils the wheels of construction by keeping the workforce flexible in an industry where companies have widely varying demands for labour depending on the projects they win. But Ucatt says the UK construction industry has lower productivity rates than other European construction industries.

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