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News Blog: Ucatt losing OFT plot

CN news editor David Rogers says union boss needs to think about his members rather than grandstanding

The comments on the OFT inquiry by the general secretary of construction union Ucatt seem to belong to another world.

For those who haven’t seen them, Alan Ritchie uses the sort of inflammatory language normally associated with the militant union leaders from the days of yore. It is “outrageous”, he says, “that ordinary workers have paid for the featherbedding of fat cat construction bosses”.

Hardly, Mr Ritchie.

In most cases this has been a victim-less crime and involves firms cover-pricing to make sure they stay on select lists. The clients too then need a dose of Mr Ritchie’s ire.

His language is equally unhelpful given that his union is part of a workers’ and employers’ agreement on the 2012 London Olympics where everybody is supposed to get along in peace, love and harmony.

Calling the others across the table from you “fat cats” is hardly going to endear him and his members to the other side. And that’s what his comments seem to be all about. Them against us.

The industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers yet Mr Ritchie wants the OFT to levy “the maximum possible penalties” on those companies found guilty of price fixing on public contracts.

Has he not twigged that, with a possible recession looming, that loads of big fines for companies might not be such a good idea for the sector? If he was to get his way, Mr Ritchie and Ucatt will have no members left because they will have all been thrown out of work after the OFT has bust their employers.

Ucatt should be trying to help out the industry and persuade the OFT not to fine companies the maximum.

Mr Ritchie’s wider point is about councils outsourcing work to private firms at the expense of DLOs, something he disagrees with. But that is the way of the world now and no amount of blustering rhetoric is going to change that.

Yes, workers should get the basic rights that most of us take for granted – holiday pay, sick pay and certainly the industry needs to clean up its act on safety.

Ucatt should be allowed to make as much noise as possible on these issues, which affect the lives of their members day in, day out.

And it is very often the unions who flag up the flagrant breaches of safety that some in this industry seem to disgracefully tolerate. They are a welcome thorn in the side of those who attempt to put their employees’ lives at risk.

But for Mr Ritchie to boil down today’s news into such language is a throwback to a bygone age. It seems remarkably out of touch and Mr Ritchie should know that.