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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Kier motorway workers based in Basingstoke protest over the denial of sick pay

Motorway-maintenance workers employed by Kier yesterday held a protest, claiming they have been refused full sick pay.

The Unite union has organised the event on behalf of its members working on a Highways England contract in the South East, called Area 3, which is run by Kier. The workers are currently only entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) of £96.35 per week, according to the union. This is in contrast to the company's office staff, who receive full sick pay for up to three months, as do site workers directly employed by Highways England.

Unite regional officer Malcolm Bonnett said the low level of pay offered to those who are sick could lead to workers taking risks to avoid being off ill. “The lack of sick pay results in workers continuing to come to work when they are ill," he said. "In normal times, due to the safety-critical work they undertake, this could have tragic consequences. During the COVID pandemic it leads to unnecessary risk of exposure to infection. It is simply unjustifiable that office-based workers receive full sick pay while those working on the motorway network only receive SSP."

A spokesperson for Kier said: “The terms and conditions of our operational workforce in [Kier] Highways, including those employed in Area 3, are aligned with the Construction Industry Joint Council, which is a union-supported national agreement. The welfare of our employees is a key priority for us and we are therefore committed to working through this matter in collaboration with Unite."

Bonnett said the union would organise further protests and could take "additional action" if Kier did not commit to paying full sick pay. Asked by Construction News about this, the union declined to state what "additional action" could entail.

Kier was reappointed to the £190m Area 3 contract in May, having first won the maintenance contract in 2008. Area 3 covers Hampshire, Surrey, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and parts of Buckinghamshire. Kier's current contract for the area will run until October 2029.

CN revealed earlier this month that Kier was the largest recipient of Highways England spending in 2020/21, as it had been in the previous two financial years. Kier Highways earned £312m from its work with the government-owned roads body, while Kier’s Infrastructure and Overseas arm was also paid £158m. The company has been paid £1.56bn by Highways England in the past three financial years – more than any other contractor.

A spokesperson for Unite said they were not aware of whether there was a similar agreement in Area 9, for which Kier also holds the Highways England contract.

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