Freelance workers in the construction industry: Global expert Andrew Burke is about to publish a major study

Freelance workers in the construction industry: Global expert Andrew Burke is about to publish a major study

15th January 2018 | David Jackson

It’s getting on for ten years since I first met Professor Andrew Burke after attending Cranfield School of Management.

Back then, Andrew was Professor of Economics and Director of Cranfield’s Entrepreneurship Centre, and I was building Hudson Contract into what has evolved to become construction’s largest professional workplace audit and CIS contract service.

Our professional interests coincided and in 2010, following comprehensive research, Professor Burke published a study called The Economic Role of Freelance Workers in the Construction Industry. The Burke Report, as it became known, delivered first-hand evidence, highlighting that freelance workers in the construction industry are neither falsely self-employed nor some lesser breed of employee. On the contrary, subbies were a vital resource, helping to stimulate economic growth. The Burke report helped to convince government to abandon policies that would have made it far more difficult for freelancers to continue in business.

Fast forward two years

The second edition of The Burke Report, published in 2012, concluded:

  • The fundamental economic effectiveness of the construction industry is underpinned by freelance builders/labour-only subbies
  • Freelance builders should be accepted as legitimate workers in their own right
  • When contracted lawfully, the issue of bogus self-employment simply does not arise

I presented the Report to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (as it was then) and I like to think those who were present that day in Westminster emerged with an increased understanding of the essential role of subbies in construction.

Now in 2018

Professor Burke is now Dean of Trinity Business School and Chair of Business Studies in Ireland. He is also Chairman of the Centre for Research on Self-Employment, the London-based IPSE international think tank on freelancing. He is widely published in top ranked international journals including the Harvard Business Review and it has given me great pleasure to see his career – and his knowledge – go from strength to strength.

And our collaboration continues . . .

The third edition of The Burke Report will be published at the end of next month, and it arrives at a time when the fight to champion the importance of freelance workers in the construction industry is no less important.

I read recently that government statistics revealed the number of small businesses operating in the UK construction sector has now reached one million – an increase of 32,000 in the past twelve months. And you can be certain that many of these entrepreneurial start-ups rely on subbies, in order to ensure they can maintain a flexible business model.

So what’s new in the latest edition of The Burke Report?

I look forward to sharing the findings with you soon. For now, I can reveal Professor Burke has drilled down into the current, fashionable notion that freelance builders are part of the gig economy. Watch this space for more.

David Jackson

Founder & Chairman, Hudson Contract

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