worker wellbeing in construction: our findings and what you can do

Explore the crucial role of Worker Wellbeing in construction with Unseen's comprehensive Worker Wellbeing site visits. Discover key issues affecting workers and learn practical recommendations for improvement.
worker wellbeing site visits in construction

Worker wellbeing is crucial in the construction industry, as labourers are vulnerable to modern slavery and exploitation. It is important that businesses take responsibility for workers on site. 

Unseen can help a business understand what’s happening on site, address issues of modern slavery and bring about better working conditions.  

We do this through Worker Wellbeing site visits. These involve working with businesses to interview their workers, and their sub-contractor workers, to better understand their experiences and provide recommendations for action. 

Read on to find out what we’ve discovered so far – and what you can do to protect workers.  

The importance of worker wellbeing site visits

Worker Wellbeing site visits allow a business to get a sense of how workers are treated, and what conditions are like on site.  

We ask questions around key themes including recruitment, policies and processes, worker engagement and terms of employment.   

Worker Wellbeing visits are valuable for: 

  • Gathering feedback from workers 
  • Understanding what people know about policies and processes on site  
  • Identifying any gaps in provisions for workers 
  • Flagging risks of modern slavery and labour abuse that might otherwise remain hidden.  
worker wellbeing in construction
Our findings

Our Worker Wellbeing visits to date have revealed six key issues. Here’s the summary: 

Issue 1: Limited Right to Work checks 

Risk: Without proper checks it is difficult to know if workers are who they say they are.  

Companies should: Check every worker’s Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card and other ID on site. Scanning CSCS cards with the Smart Check App can help to identify fraudulent cards.

Issue 2: Low awareness of confidential reporting routes

Risk: Workers might feel trapped in a situation on site and be unsure about who they can talk to. Speaking to someone in a non-confidential way can put a worker in danger.  

Companies should: Regularly inform workers of a whistleblowing/speak-up line. This can be done during an induction and in toolbox talks.

Issue 3: Pay deductions

Risk: Abnormal pay deductions can indicate that a worker is being exploited. Any deductions might take a worker below National Minimum Wage.  

Companies should: Regularly inform workers of their employment rights. This can be done during toolbox talks. Information on how to understand your payslip can also help workers to identify abnormal deductions. The information should be made available in a worker’s preferred language.  

Issue 4: Language barriers

Risk: Non-English speaking workers often rely on colleagues to translate for them on site, but you cannot guarantee the worker is receiving correct information. This can leave a worker at risk of exploitation.  

Companies should: Ensure that key policy documents are translated into a worker’s preferred language or languages common on site. Management should use independent interpreter services such as Clear Voice to communicate with workers. 

Issue 5: Limited terms of employment

Risk: Without clear, written terms of employment that set out pay and hours, workers can be vulnerable to having to work overtime and/or not being paid correctly.  

Companies should: Encourage all workers, including the self-employed, to obtain written confirmation of their hours and pay before they start. It is important to regularly inform workers of their employment rights in the UK.  

Issue 6: Informal recruitment

Risk: Informal recruitment practices such as finding work through friends and family can increase the chance of exploitation. For example, workers might not receive a contract, or wages might be paid into family or friends’ bank accounts, and as a result the worker might not receive their full wages. 

Companies should: During recruitment, ask workers how they found the job, and conduct due diligence to cross-check a worker’s personal details and employment agreement.  

Work with subcontractors to raise awareness of these issues. If using referral schemes, conduct due diligence and monitor for any individuals providing a large number of workers to a site. 

worker wellbeing site visits in construction
How unseen can help

You can mitigate the risks outlined above. 

Whether you are a client, a main contractor, a sub-contractor or a supplier, you should take responsibility for the role you might be playing in worker exploitation on site. 

Unseen’s team of trained experts can work with you to conduct Worker Wellbeing interviews.  

After a site visit we provide: 

  • An in-depth report, scoring your business in eight key areas 
  • Practical recommendations to improve working conditions and protect workers against key risks 
  • A confidential, person-centred approach – interviews are conducted by trained, Unseen personnel 
  • Support with escalation and remediation processes if a potential case of exploitation is identified. 

To find out more about our Worker Wellbeing site visits and how Unseen can support your business, get in touch at [email protected]. 

Related stories

Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.