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A timely move by Laing O'Rourke

AGENDA

LAING O'ROURKE'S decision to call time on long working hours is a radical step.

Hard work and excessive hours are often complained about but nonetheless remain firmly rooted in construction's site culture.

What makes the shift to a five-day working week all the more remarkable is that Laing O'Rourke, itself a company with a reputation for rewarding commitment and long shifts with big pay packets, is taking the lead.

At first sight the driver for this cultural revolution is the proposal to end the opt-out offered to construction workers from the 48-hour working week law.Whether or when this opt-out will be closed still needs to be determined, but informed opinion suggests changes are looming for 2005.

Contractors rightly get hot under the collar about a threatened tightening of the law. Clients, especially Government, still expect round-the-clock working to reduce disruption to public services. Even much of the construction workforce argues it should have the freedom to fatten wage packets with overtime payments. So winning over Laing O'Rourke's 6,000-strong workforce is a big challenge. But the firm is courageously tackling the issue head-on. Instead of whingeing, it is adapting.

Mr O'Rourke has proved to be a standard-bearer for innovative thinking. Shifting weekly-paid workers to monthly salaries and limiting the working week to four days of 10 hours and one of eight hours is a positive reform that underlines this reputation and challenges the industry at large.

It is about dragging construction into the modern age, about offering something more than an honest day's pay for a casual day's work. It is about offering a career not just a job.With that could come the proud and professional workforce construction cries out for.