Ensuring the health, safety, and human rights of workers in any sector is a complex feat and one that requires continuous improvement. For large-scale construction and infrastructure projects, this task is further complicated by the sheer number of workers and employers – contractors and subcontractors – at the same job site. An effective grievance mechanism can increase the knowledge of and improve the living and working conditions for workers at these job sites. Verité implemented such a grievance mechanism over a three-year period at a major construction project in China.
Fully integrated into a project-wide grievance framework, Verité created and managed an on-site helpline to enable constant communication between workers, contractors, subcontractors, and management. At Verité, we believe that an effective worker helpline is not only a reporting channel, but also a mechanism between workers and management to address problems.
Through the helpline, staff fielded a range of questions, inquiries, complaints, and grievances. The operators often served as counselors and mediators as they worked to resolve issues and disputes. General contractors had a set timeframe to respond to issues identified through the helpline. When an issue was not addressed in the allotted time, it was escalated to the onsite construction management companies. Operators logged and tracked all cases until they were closed and Verité provided weekly updates to the owner with the number, category, and status of cases. On a cumulative basis, nearly 99 percent of complaints or grievances were resolved at that construction site.
Often, helpline staff could bring about a resolution more efficiently and effectively than through other means such as arbitration or lawsuits. This was the case for a call that the helpline received from a worker’s son, who worked at the site with his father. When his father collapsed on the job, he was taken to the hospital and treated for fatigue, brain hemorrhage, and high blood pressure. After paying some of the initial costs of treatment, the employer had not paid any additional medical costs, thus prompting the phone call.
Helpline staff got in touch with the employer who sent a representative to meet with the worker in person to work towards a resolution. Work-related injury disputes can take up to two years to be resolved without an intervention such as Verité’s helpline, while this case was settled in just three months. In construction, injuries are common and recovery can be long and costly. Verité’s hotline and services offered by the operators made the process more efficient for both sides.
An effective grievance system that is results-focused and trusted by workers such as this helpline, can help address the health, safety, and human rights issues that workers face on any job site. See the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework and Verité’s Fair Hiring Toolkit for guidance on Establishing Effective Grievance Mechanisms & Protection for Whistleblowers.
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