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Press releases

14 February 2014

Statement from Anna Stewart responding to UCATT's allegations

Laing O’Rourke continues to lead the way in the construction industry with direct employment, employing over 5,000 skilled construction workers on our UK projects.

We ensure they receive the very best terms and conditions, we reach out and work with Trade Union colleagues to support them, and train our people extensively in technical trade skills and behavioural safety management. This duty of care is unprecedented at such scale in our industry.

It is therefore with much disappointment that we read the false accusations contained in UCATT’s recent press release (11 February, 2014), entitled ‘Liverpool Hospital Report sent to Parliament’. We feel compelled to reply to these falsehoods in detail to protect our good reputation in industrial relations and safety management, and to set the record straight.

The central tenet of the UCATT press release and the comments of its General Secretary, Steve Murphy, which were also shared during his recent appearance at the Scottish Affairs Select Committee hearing, suggest that Laing O’Rourke is both anti-union and anti-safety, particularly in relation to the Alder Hey Hospital project in Liverpool.

Nothing could be further from the truth – and unfortunately, misinformed sound-bites can often take precedence over the facts of the matter. Whilst we respect the need for open dialogue and the ability to publicly debate the important issues, the union’s constant and spurious briefing through the media must be addressed. Therefore, the following is a balanced and factual account of the issues as they exist.

1. Laing O’Rourke accepts and supports the role of the trade union movement and the assistance they can provide to our employees and the Group. 

As UCATT is well aware, its regional officials frequently meet and share dialogue, sometimes healthy debate, with our industrial relations managers over a range of matters to do with workers’ safety and welfare. This ensures we are upholding the values we share for the industry and:

  • challenge and change the construction industry worldwide, by ensuring that;
  • our overriding priority remains the safety and welfare of our workforce, and
  • our workforce is directly employed, providing the security and benefits consistent with a modern day working environment.

A significant proportion of Laing O’Rourke’s union-affiliated workforce are UCATT members and have their union membership fees deducted directly from their salaries on a weekly basis by the company, commonly known as a check off facility. We believe this strongly demonstrates the level of support and cooperation we continually foster with UCATT.

2. Alder Hey is a privately-funded project under a PFI procurement route running over two years which has actively encouraged and supported progressive union engagement to date.

The report by UCATT stated that Alder Hey is publicly-funded over a four year period, which is incorrect. Laing O’Rourke is both an equity partner in the ACORN consortium and the principal contractor. Upon appointment, the company held discussions with union officials representing workers on the project, including UCATT, to discuss access to the project. At that time we offered UCATT officials a slot within our site inductions to promote the benefits of trade union membership and seek to recruit our employees into their membership. In our view this is the most productive and professional environment for engagement.

We offer a voluntary check-off facility to those employees who wish to have their trade union subscriptions deducted directly from their weekly wage. This ensures membership continuity for both UCATT and its members, and there has been substantial take-up of this service elsewhere across Laing O’Rourke’s projects.

To date UCATT have not taken up the offer to attend inductions at Alder Hey, neither have they responded to a request made by Laing O’Rourke in September 2013 asking them to outline their proposals for wider interaction with the project in writing.

3. Laing O’Rourke’s overriding priority is the safety and welfare of our workforce.

We are committed to challenging and changing the construction industry and have invested heavily in Mission Zero, our behaviourally based safety approach which aims to eradicate all injuries in the Laing O’Rourke workplace by 2020.

Given this ambition it is with regret that we confirm that recently there have been three reportable incidents on the Alder Hey in the Park project in which three employees sustained injuries, none of which were life-threatening or as severe as UCATT’s news release appeared to imply. Those affected are receiving the necessary support and medical care to treat their injuries. These incidents are being thoroughly investigated in co-operation with the relevant authorities.

To suggest that the lack of union safety representatives could be a factor is untrue.

We believe that every person working on one of our projects contributes to a safe working environment. Since we launched Mission Zero in 2010 we have concentrated heavily on changing behaviours and culture on site – empowering individuals to create a safer working environment. Every individual who works on one of our projects has a safety interview with a member of the project’s senior management team. Our inductions highlight the importance of safety and stress that we all have the right to question and raise concerns. Such is the openness of our approach that we actively encourage our people to self-report hazards and near misses as part of the Mission Zero programme.

It is our belief that we will create a safer working environment by working together and encouraging everyone to focus on safety. On this point, whilst a union appointed safety representative who visits the site periodically can certainly help to promote the importance of safety on site, we do not believe it will add anything beyond our existing extensive approach. Furthermore, they do not possess the technical understanding of our unique delivery approach to fully comprehend and be able to mitigate the safety risks on our projects – therefore we simply cannot countenance their involvement in this critical element of our inductions.

4. Laing O’Rourke is committed to providing employment opportunities to people local to our projects.

39% of Alder Hey’s employees live within Liverpool and the City Region and we currently employ 25 apprentices; 15 of whom have started their career with us on Alder Hey. 18 of our apprentices are from Liverpool and four from the Liverpool City Region.

The claim that Laing O’Rourke employees who live locally are being blocked from working at Alder Hey because they are union members is untrue.

It is true that during the recession, we tried to keep as many of our directly employed workforce in work. To do this, there were times where we had to offer positions to people further from home and it is an unfortunate consequence of the recession that construction work in the north of England declined more rapidly and severely than it did in the south.

Today we have 151 people whose home base is Merseyside, 76 of whom are working at Alder Hey, 58 working within a 55 mile radius of their homes, 3 within 62 miles, and only 14 working beyond the 62-mile radius. These are predominantly made up of employees with specialist technical skills who are used to being deployed on projects in locations remote to their home base. They accept this fact within their normal working practices, but wherever possible we always endeavour to deploy them on a project closer to their home base. The fact that some of these people are union members has not been a barrier to them working with us.

With reference to the claim that many of the site-based workers are being offered redundancy, this is simply not the case. Our industrial relations managers and project leaders carry out regulatory-demanded site consultations to provide the workforce with progress updates. This ensures that workers are continually appraised of the longevity of their specific areas of work, and are aware of the future pipeline of projects for which they are being considered for deployment.

5. Laing O’Rourke is the largest direct employer in the construction industry.

At the Scottish Affairs Select Committee meeting we were pleased to hear Mr Murphy highlight the importance of direct employment. Laing O’Rourke has the largest directly employed operative workforce within the UK building and engineering industry, and regards positive engagement between our managers and employees as vital to maintaining a safe and productive workplace environment.

Our direct employment and delivery model differentiates us from most of our competitors, creating a different site-level dynamic based on mutual trust and shared responsibility in areas of workplace safety and welfare. We invest heavily in up-skilling our project managers in employee engagement and management techniques in this regard.

In parallel direct employment provides greater continuity of paid work in contrast to the ‘hire and fire’ approach of the traditional sub-contracting model deployed by many of our competitors in the market.

Alder Hey currently has a workforce of approximately 450 site-based workers. Of that number, around 340 are directly employed by Laing O’Rourke companies. Where we have a short term or temporary need for labour, we will engage with employment agencies. Laing O’Rourke currently has approximately 12 people employed on Alder Hey via reputable agencies that have pre-existing union agreements in place with UCATT.

To conclude, we believe it is important to respond to UCATT’s accusations with a factually detailed and balanced response. Laing O’Rourke’s reputation for the welfare and safety of its workforce has been hard earned and is something we are hugely proud of, and we would encourage the UCATT leadership to take up our long standing offer to directly engage with us in constructive dialogue. We look forward to their early response.

Anna Stewart
Chief Executive, Laing O’Rourke


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