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E-register to stamp out bogus self-employment

Russ Lynch reports from Bournemouth on Ucatt's 16th annual delegate conference

THE GOVERNMENT is considering creating an electronic register of all self-employed construction workers under the CIS tax scheme to help stamp out bogus self-employment.

Construction union Ucatt general secretary George Brumwell told the annual conference in Bournemouth that the move could spell the end for CIS4 certificates and vouchers as the government moves towards an electronic register for workers.

Mr Brumwell has held meetings in recent weeks with Inland Revenue officials and revealed that changes to the CIS scheme could be put out to consultation after Dr Mark Harvey raised concerns about bogus self-employment in his report Undermining Construction last year.

Mr Brumwell told the conference: 'There's going to be a change - every employee will be electronically registered. We would expect to see a great increase in workers going back on the books. It would stop people from picking up CIS4 certificates down the pub.

'This debate has been with us for 30 years. The whole essence of bogus self-employment is to undermine union organisation. The only way we can resolve this is to pressure the government into taking direct action.'

Although the details and time-scale for introducing the electronic register have yet to be finalised, one possibility is a telephone hotline for employers to check the credentials of self-employed workers on the new database.

Mr Brumwell added that a crossdepartmental government working group had been established to examine the issue.

In February, the Construction Confederation also called for the recall of all 600,000 CIS4 certificates to stamp out bogus self-employment.

At the conference Mr Brumwell also reminded the chancellor that if the Treasury took steps to eliminate the £2 billion cost of bogus self-employment in construction, there would be enough funds to provide the 83,000 affordable homes to rent which homeless charity Shelter estimates are required every year.

An Inland Revenue spokesman said: 'A review of the CIS scheme is under way and any changes to the scheme will be made as a result of the review's recommendations.'

Concerns raised about foreign workers

REPRESENTATIVES from employers and unions voiced concerns over Home Office proposals to introduce more foreign labour on UK sites at a crunch meeting last week.

Plans to bring in eastern European construction workers on six-month permits similar to those granted to seasonal agricultural workers to combat the industry's crippling skills shortages were met with caution by Ucatt, the Construction Confederation, the Construction Industry Training Board and the National Federation of Builders.

It is understood that Ucatt expressed concern over the increased casualisation of the workforce, and the lack of time to train up the new overseas recruits.

Civil servants at the meeting from the Home Office, the DTI and the Department of Work and Pensions moved to reassure the unions that industry wage agreements would apply to the workers.

One source said: 'It was really a meeting for the Home Office to find out how it can help the industry.

It is keen to move quickly on the issue, but it depends what it can deliver.'