Andrew Burke

If you want a better construction sector, support the self-employed

For a long time, the freelance-heavy construction sector has been one of the key focal points for the debate about self-employment. And with Britain’s housing crisis looming ever-larger, the focus on this vital sector is only intensifying. That’s why Hudson and the Centre for Research on Self-Employment (CRSE) commissioned the landmark new report, Freelance Workers in the Construction Industry. You may find the results a little surprising…

There is a growing myth at the moment that the widespread self-employment in the construction sector is somehow harming not only the welfare of construction workers themselves, but also the productivity of the industry as a whole. What this report has shown is just how untrue this is. It has proved beyond doubt that using a freelance-intensive workforce model is better both for many highly skilled construction workers, and for most firms in the industry.

In terms of worker welfare, as with many other sectors, it is now widely believed that the most vulnerable, lowest-paid workers in construction must be those who are self-employed. In fact, the report shows that the self-employed contingent of the workforce (roughly half) actually sit in the middle of the scale in terms of economic wellbeing. The least financially secure group in the construction sector is low-skilled employees. In fact, the lowest 40 per cent of earners in the construction industry are predominantly employees.

Drill down into part-time and full-time work and the difference becomes even starker: in every quartile of the part-time workforce, the self-employed are more financially secure. The idea that employment status is what is impeding worker welfare in the construction sector is quite simply the wrong diagnosis. As the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) pointed out in their Vulnerable Work report, the real problem actually seems to be access to training.

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