Construction industry trade unions CSC/ACV and FGTB/ABVV are in dispute with the industry federation over a demand to institute a plan for every construction site to operate a site register.
The demand is not new, but has been sparked by the collapse of a school under construction in Antwerp two weeks ago. Five workers died and others injured, but in the course of the search, there was uncertainty about how many might be under the rubble.
The investigation is in the hands of an investigating magistrate.
A site register would keep note of everyone who entered and left a site, including times of arrival and departure. Exactly the kind of register used in many office buildings, for use in case of fire.
“The unions want to ensure that the victims are at the centre of the investigation at all times and to check whether all safety measures were observed at the site,” their lawyer Jan Buelens told the Gazet van Antwerpen.
“They want to know exactly what happened, to learn lessons for the future.”
But the Confederatie Bouw (Construction Confederation) which represents employers, is digging in its heels against the idea of a register.
One side-effect of a register system, other than in case of accidents, is that it would help prevent social dumping – the employment of foreign workers at lower than Belgian wages, thus pricing many union members out of a job. The unions claim that is the employers’ main objection to the scheme.
Three of the men who died in the Antwerp school collapse were Portuguese, one was Romanian and one Russian. The investigation will also determine what their legal and employment status was.
“The investigation has only just begun and the unions have apparently already reached their conclusions,” said Jan Vochten, director of the federation’s social department.
“An addition of a check-out to the existing attendance registration could not have prevented the accident. We deplore the drama and do not deny that there are sometimes abuses. That is why we have also launched the Plan for Fair Competition (PEC) against social dumping.”
Meanwhile at the other side of Antwerp, at the site of the Oosterweel construction of a new section of the Antwerp Ring, a digital and real-time check-in check-out system is already in operation. That was the result of two years of talks between unions and the project manager, Lantis.
“I’m a big fan of their socially responsible enterprise,” said union representative Ronny Matthysen (ACV).