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UCATT – a worthy cause, wrong numbers

David Jackson | 15th October 2013

Conference season is now over, and our politicians are back at work, no doubt thinking hard about vote-winning policies for the next General Election.

If Steve Murphy, General Secretary of construction union UCATT is successful, then the issue of ‘bogus self-employment in construction’ will feature high on the Labour Party manifesto – and it may be that freelance builders should expect harsh treatment if Labour are elected to govern.

As I mentioned last month, Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is reviewing Labour’s 2009 position on ‘deeming all those viewed as falsely self-employed, to be in receipt of employment income and taxed under PAYE’.

Ms Reeves has yet to publish her report, but I sincerely hope she realises that when UCATT talk about the level of alleged false self-employment in construction, their numbers stem from pure guesswork: at various times, 300,000 have been alleged… 400,000 have been alleged… 200,000 have been alleged… yet there is no official count that I’m aware of, on which to base a new Draconian diktat of compulsory PAYE tax and NI deduction without employment rights.

New laws based on guesswork? Could that be Labour’s approach to an industry it expects to build 200,000 new homes each year?

Here are some relevant numbers obtained from reputable sources of public information:

  • In 2012, The Office for National Statistics reported that there were 682,730 construction employees plus a further 717,710 working on sites – a total of 1,400,440 construction operatives. 
  • A further 700,000 administrative staff work in construction making about 2,100,000 altogether.
  • In 2011, the Certification Officer (who deals with complaints concerning trade union elections) stated that while UCATT claimed it had about 129,000 members, it distributed only 66,529 voting papers.
  • The Certification Officer ruled there were only 48,146 eligible voters in the December 2011 election for UCATT’s General Secretary.
  • Steve Murphy was elected to the position of UCATT General Secretary with just 5,475 votes of the 9,055 cast in the ballot.

And the relevance of these published numbers to the foregoing?

It appears evident that UCATT are unable to produce reliable figures. Yet their General Secretary, elected by only a small percentage of its own membership, is swift to adopt the role of ‘voice of the industry’ in demanding tax law changes that would hurt the UK’s 500,000 legitimate freelance builders, just to catch the few who are falsely self-employed.

Hudson Contract has always deplored bogus self-employment and will continue to do so. ‘Deeming’, however, is an unreasonable measure for an unjustified number.

 

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