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Foreign labour row

More overseas workers could be recruited under controversial HVCA qualication scheme

HEATING and ventilation employers are considering controversial plans to bring in more overseas labour as part of proposals to forge closer links with employment agencies.

The Heating & Ventilating Contractors Association is in talks with national skills mapping agency NARIC over verifying foreign qualifications for overseas workers to work in the UK, according to documents seen by Const ruct ion News.

Engineering union Amicus is against the idea and is fighting similar plans from the Electrical Contractors Association and the Engineering Construction Industry Association.

The employers' plans to increase overseas labour comes despite figures from the HVCA's own training subsidiary, Building Engineering Services Training, which show hundreds of home-grown applicants are turned away every year. In 2005-06, 2,894 applicants sought apprenticeships, with just 802 passing the assessment. Of these, only 350 are expected to be taken on as apprentices.

A BEST insider said: 'Each year there are many young people who do not get the opportunity to start an apprenticeship because employers are reluctant to train.'

One Amicus source said: 'We'll be showing them these numbers the next time they talk to us about a skills shortage.'

An HVCA spokesman said: 'If foreign workers are going to be used, and it is up to individual companies if they are, then there should be mechanisms in place for their qualifications and health and safety standards to be assessed.'

The HVCA minutes outline a possible code of practice 'as a means to deliver to the labour agencies the level of respectability they are seeking'.

The code includes elements such as agencies committing to employment packages no less favourable than directly employed personnel, commitments to improved health and safety and training staff.

Agencies can currently be affiliated to the trade association but under the proposals could brand themselves an 'HVCA approved agency'.