Letter sent to The Guardian:
On Sunday your sister paper, The Observer, led its front page with an important story explaining how the ”big four” trades unions (GMB, Unite, Unison & Usdaw) have warned the prime minister they will not recommend their member return to work until a nationwide health and safety accord is agreed. (“No return to work until we feel safe, unions tell Johnson” 10 May2020; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/09/trade-union-leaders-no-return-to-work-health-safety-unison-unite-tuc).
This is sensible representation of their members, until it is recognised the extraordinary and dangerous exception the GMB and Unite have made for their members the huge Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant construction site near Bridgwater.
Five weeks ago, the plant owner, French company Electricite de France (EDF), announced reduction of the workforce from 4,500 to 2,000 under pressure from nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (onr)
This came as growing concern emerged in the local community issues of serious continuous breaches of social spacing in workers queueing to enter and leave the site through security checks, and chaos on workforce buses, as workers jostled cheek to jowl to board. In the evenings, single male workers often took to village squares drinking canned beer in large boisterous groups.
The construction was kept going, not because HPC is a key nationally important construction site—it will not produce any power for at least five years, probably significantly later- but because of a contract to pour concrete for its massive base. The business and energy department (Beis) was very keen to keep construction going, come what may.
Yet on 6 May, Nigel Cann, delivery director for HPC, in a “Coronavirus update made th following literally incredible claim:
“Even as economic activity increases, the many steps we have taken to monitor health and prevent the risk of infection will remain in place and numbers on site will always be guided by what is safe.”
He then added, far from reducing the workforce, “Our remaining workforce is now well adapted to social distancing and the experience gained has helped us to make a small and safe increase in numbers to just under 2,500….”
He also admitted: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, five members of the [HPC] site team have tested positive for Coronavirus.” One has died.
Roy Pumfrey, local campaign group Stop Hinkley spokesperson, has revealed to me that while EdF claim to have reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission by consolidating their pick up points for transporting workers to and from the site, he is being told that:
“unmarked minibuses are also picking up HPC workers, clearly identifiable by their orange hi-vis jackets, at various points in Bridgwater and the outlying villages, [which] not only flies in the face of assurances made by EdF but clearly breaks the social-distancing protocols in the minibuses.”
What are unions GMB and Unite doing about this safety scandal?