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How to build inclusive construction – some lessons from Hinkley Point C

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When we talk about the jobs of the future, it seems obvious that these should be good jobs that are open to all. But what does this mean in practice? Hinkley Point C – Europe's largest construction site – has a few lessons to teach us, thanks to the work of GMB and Unite union reps.

First things first. Have you seen Jamie Busby, GMB union rep at Hinkley Point C, hit back at a Daily Mail smear piece with some tough words on construction workers’ mental health? If not, watch this video, and then come back to reading this blog.

Union reps like Jamie have been instrumental in making Hinkley one of the leading examples of inclusion practices in construction – something all infrastructure projects should learn from.

Hinkley Point C is the first of the UK’s new generation of nuclear power stations, and “the biggest construction site in Europe”, operated by EDF Energy, a division of the French public energy company. It is expected to create 25 thousand jobs in the construction phase, including supporting one thousand apprenticeships.

Women at Hinkley

Out of the apprentices hired by the project, four in ten so far have been women – this is against the background of the construction industry where women make up only 11% of the workforce.

There is a dedicated women’s network at Hinkley, co-convened by GMB and Unite, where women staff can support each other and come up with ways to make the workplace more welcoming to women in general, as well as to more specific groups like parents and carers.

What makes an inclusive workplace

We asked Charlotte Childs, GMB’s national officer for construction, to explain what makes the difference for a construction workplace welcoming to women.

“I’ve never seen as many women on a construction site as at Hinkley,” Charlotte said. “EDF actively encourage women to apply for apprenticeships and jobs. And the infrastructure that’s needed is all there. […] It’s things like PPE and shoes in women’s sizes, or sanitary bins, or accessible washrooms: you don’t have to leave the site and walk around the block to find a bathroom.”

But more than the physical infrastructure, the culture, too, needs to change.

“Construction can be a very unwelcoming environment to women,” Charlotte said. Women face widespread sexual harassment and catcalling at work.

Unions can play a key role in helping women employees get redress from an employer by accompanying a formal grievance process. And EDF Energy has been supportive of employees who filed grievances – including intervening when a subcontractor tried to ignore an employee’s sexual harassment grievance. As well as having robust grievance processes, under new legislation won by trade unions all employers will need to take a preventative approach to sexual harassment and tackling the cultures that enable it to thrive.

Responsible approach to subcontracting

The bulk of construction work is delivered by contractor firms, or further subcontracted: and this is where EDF’s approach at Hinkley stands out. All work on the site, including everything done by contractors and subcontractors, is covered by an agreement with trade unions. Before commencing work, EDF held ‘solidarity project’ days, where the company introduced subcontractor management to union representatives. These workshops lay the foundations for a good working relationship, and helped negotiate agreements that guarantee good jobs – with decent pay, stability, and inclusive practices.

As construction work got underway, unions participate in new employee inductions, ensuring every worker knows what they’re entitled to. Unions have translated the agreements covering the work into every major language spoken by workers contracted on the plant. And EDF conducts a monthly audit of contractor employment, to ensure fair rates of pay are upheld.

EDF also have their eyes on the potential within Sizewell C and is in discussion with trade unions on how to go even further to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in nuclear construction.

Working with unions underpins good work

“The whole structure at Hinkley is designed for workers to have a voice,” Charlotte Childs says. “When unions are in the room with the person who really makes the decision, this makes all the difference.”

These lessons – prioritising worker voice, a responsible approach to contractors, taking equalities targets seriously, believing women in the workplace, and shaping the physical site to the needs of women – are all lessons that employers need to learn if the jobs of the future are to be good jobs.

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