High Speed 2 bosses are looking for contractors with directly employed workers as they move into the procurement phase for the first phase of the £43bn project.
Simon Kirby, chief executive of project promoter HS2 Ltd, told NCE that employment factors could play a big part in the selection of firms to build the London to Birmingham leg of the rapid rail link.
Seven contracts for the surface route and tunnels between London and Birmingham, worth up to £8.6bn, were formally advertised last month.
Kirby said “ethics” would be a major factor in the first stage of this procurement process, along with safety, skills, application and innovation.
“HS2 is big enough to enable the infrastructure industry to make a step change in how it employs people,” he said.
“Safety performance is better when people are employed rather than contracted in. We are looking at how people have safety records by employing their own staff; we are doing work with the Trades Union Congress on things like control and oversight of things like zero hours contracts.
“Zero hours contracts and how they are managed in the construction industry is not where we should be in this day and age in terms of employing people, looking after people and developing people.
“We and our partners should be investing in the skills of our people so we are looking for strong records of employing and investing in people rather than hiring in people on a weekly basis on zero hours contracts.”
Ability to find and train people ready for the project in the midst of a national skills crisis will also be important for firms trying to win work on HS2.
“Part of the tendering process will be [contractors’] propositions around how they will develop skills and people, integrate with the colleges we are building, and create a new workforce,” said Kirby.
He added that the magnitude of the project would help attract people to it, and that their enthusiasm and training could make HS2 part of the solution to the skills crisis.
“HS2 is an iconic project people will want to be part of, and they will want to be part of its success,” said Kirby.
“Inevitably there will be some skills that will be in high demand in this country in the future if infrastructure plans progress as we hope they will. Our strategy is about getting [contractors] engaged early – once they have the commitment, they have the incentive to find the people and develop the skills.”
He added: “The technologies [we will be using] are new so we are looking to train and develop people on the technologies as we bring them in, inevitably this is more software based so we are looking for different skill sets as well as general construction.”
Kirby insisted the HS2 procurement remained “about British jobs” in an exclusive interview with NCE after major civils contracts on the scheme were announced in China last month.