Frightened workers are calling for a government ban on non-essential construction work amid claims they are being forced to choose between their health and their wage slip.
Unite Scotland leaders were left reeling after the Scottish Government allowed the continuation of such building work last week, despite the emergence of the new strain of Covid-19.
And Steve Dillon, the union’s construction coordinating officer, told The P&J the dangers had been made only too clear when a worker at a north-east site tested positive in the last few days.
He said: “There is currently a fight under way in the north-east, where a worker has tested positive and has been sent home.
“But he was in the canteen with all the other workers, who have been told to work on.
“They want to go home too but have been told if they do, they will not be paid.”
The case, at the unnamed site, has been raised with the Scottish Government and enforcement agencies.
Non-essential construction halted in first lockdown
Only projects aimed at aiding the Covid effort, for other essential public services and maintaining critical infrastructure were allowed to continue.
If rules similar to last April were to be brought in, house building projects across the north-east and Highlands, as well as multi-million-pound projects such as Aberdeen’s redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens and the construction of Lossiemouth High School, would grind to a halt.
Earlier this month, The P&J revealed Haudagain roundabout improvement works in the north of Aberdeen, as well as a number of other key projects including new hospitals, had already been delayed.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stopped short of reintroducing those measures last week, though she did halt trades workers entering private homes.
It comes as the Scottish Government stated the virus was now “likely in another growth phase”.
Concerns Covid measures on site not adequate
Mr Dillon added: “Construction workers are criss-crossing Scotland, and even across the UK, on a daily basis.
“Unite has been inundated with concerns from construction workers that Covid measures on site are not adequate, some with over 300 workers on them.
“Thousands of construction workers were furloughed during the first lockdown and construction was phased back in a managed step by step process.
“The present situation is very different from last April in that the sector is practically operating at 100% despite the new strain of the virus being far more transmissible.”
He added: “Unite is calling for all non-essential works to close and for only emergency repairs in people’s homes to be permitted.
“The Scottish Government correctly instructed non-essential construction works to cease with immediate effect last April and they issued clear guidance on what constituted essential works.
“We are demanding that this position be re-established before we have a crisis in the making, if the new strain hasn’t already spread across construction sites.”
The Scottish Government has issued guidance, developed with unions and trade bodies, to try and keep workers safe while construction and manufacturing continues.
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “It is vital that all workplaces continue to follow this guidance, planning for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively.
“Employers must carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, paying particular attention to workers who are disproportionately at risk due to underlying health conditions or the role they carry out, and only those who cannot do their job from home should be asked to go to the workplace.”
The Aberdeen Central MSP added: “Should anyone have concerns about their workplace or a workplace they should inform their local authority and the HSE.
“A single point of contact has also been established for trade union representatives to explain how all Covid-19 workplace guidance is being implemented.”