UCATT seeks to close loophole that allows employer to enter administration to avoid trial, then form new company afterwards
New legislation to prevent firms using a legal loophole to escape justice after the death of a worker has cleared the first hurdle in the House of Commons.
UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy welcomed the progress made by a Bill sponsored by Labour MP Luciana Berger, a member of the construction union.
She told the Commons she was moved to act by the deaths of construction worker Mark Thornton in her Liverpool Waverley constituency, and satellite installer Noel Corbin in London.
Steve Murphy said: “This is a vital first step in the parliamentary campaign to stop companies who kill workers avoiding justice. If MPs are serious about protecting the safety of workers it is vital that this Bill becomes law.”
Luciana Berger said her Bill would amend health and safety at work legislation to allow the assets to be frozen of a company under investigation following a death or serious injury at work.
“A worrying number of companies are not only ignoring the laws designed to protect their employees but exploiting legal loopholes to avoid proper punishment following a death at work resulting from their malpractice.”
She said 46-year-old Thornton was killed in 2007 when a steel column struck him after the crane carrying it buckled and toppled over.
He worked for Bryn Thomas Crane Hire, which went into administration in December 2010, shortly before the case went to trial, and the judge said he could only impose a fine of £4,500.
While in administration, the company was bought out by two of its directors, and now operates under a similar name, run by the same people and using the same equipment.
Corbin was just 29 when he fell from a roof while working for Foxtel Ltd, in 2008, and after a Health and Safety investigation, the firm entered administration just before the trial.
While it was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws, the court was able to impose only a £1 fine – and Foxtel was then resurrected, and continues to trade under virtually the same name.
Berger said this loophole was exploited by negligent employers unwilling to take responsibility for the tragedies they had caused, and it must be closed.
Giving health and safety inspectors powers to freeze a firm’s assets when under investigation following an accident at work would prevent the manoeuvrings illustrated in the two cases.
Similar freezing orders already exist in fraud and drugs cases, and could be used to keep companies trading, but combat the problem of phoenix firms being set up under a slightly different name.
Luciana Berger concluded: “In the construction industry, strong health and safety laws save lives. If our laws were stronger, more lives might be saved. Last year, 50 people died on construction sites – that is 50 too many.”
Her Bill was unopposed and will get a Second Reading on April 27.
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