According to the excellent Nordic Labour Journal the Swedish building worker’s union ‘Byggnads’ have won a major concession from the building industry.
Essentially the union have negotiated an agreement for the official industry association (BI) to establish fund that would as a last resort pay the wages for work done to the employees of sub contractors if the main contractor and union jointly fail to make the sub contractor pay.
This seems to me to be an effective way of ameliorating some of the problems that the tendency for long chains of sub and sub sub contractors within construction.
Of course in the UK this exact solution may not work to deal with the number one problem in the industry – that of bogus self employment, and the fact that most building workers don’t have a problem with it.
However the concept of ‘main contractor liability’ could surely be extended to other areas. Could we potentially organise for the main contractor (or employers or comissioners of services in other industries??) to be the ultimate guarantors of terms & conditions for all the workers under their aegis?
Also of interest is the article’s reference to the Norwegian and German systems which allow workers to demand unpaid wages from the next company up the chain – that approach would be an even more radical model, while at the same time probably being cheaper in the long run than the more exhaustive compromise in Sweden.
In the UK the long term trend in employment not just in construction but everywhere seems to be towards shifting more and more responsibilities for work and workers to contractors and providers of specific services; and even to the workers themselves.
It seems to me that main contractor liability could address some of this.