HIGH wages are luring hundreds of Irish construction workers to Britain, some from as far away as Australia, to work on London’s Crossrail project.
The move, seen as the return of the Irish tunneller, is being fuelled by the attractive sums on offer — often upwards of £400 per day.
That would put the highest paid tunneller, who would normally work seven days on/two days off, on potentially £100,000 a year before tax.
North London-based John Small has over 20 years’ experience in tunnelling and construction in Ireland and Britain.
He has been working as a construction manager on Crossrail for McNicholas Construction for the past six months but is now helping other Irish workers, who are “following the money”, to get their foot in the door.
Small, originally from Granard in Co. Longford, says he’s helped up to 400 Irish workers sort out their CVs, qualifications and CSCS cards in the last six months alone through his business, Cricklewood Construction Training Services.
“The work may be hard but the money is good,” said Small, who estimates that 80 per cent of Crossrail’s tunnellers are Irish.
“Entry-level workers are getting a basic wage of £210 per day. Bonuses are awarded based on the amount of progress made by each ‘gang’ of workers, meaning a labourer could come out with an extra £160 on top of that basic rate.”
He added: “There are lads coming over to find out what’s going on. But you’ve got to get your cards right — you can’t move without a card in London.”
Several hundred Irish workers are employed across Crossrail’s multiple sites, according to a spokesperson for the scheme. The total workforce has just passed the 9,000 mark.
And following a massive drop-off in spending in Ireland since the downturn, it comes as no surprise that contractors carrying out the biggest construction project under way in Europe have been quick to snap up the Irish, who built up their skills working on major Celtic Tiger-era civil engineering projects like the M50 and the Dublin Port Tunnel.
“You’ve lots of boys from Donegal, Mayo, Connemara — other parts of the country too,” said Small. “When a job starts we’d all be aware.”
Donegal publican John McNulty owns and runs the Lucky 7 pub in Cricklewood — a hub for Irish construction workers in London.
A former ‘tunnel man’ himself, who worked on the Jubilee line extension in the 1990s, he gets regular calls from companies looking to hire qualified workers.
He said: “Just the other day the phone rang saying they were looking for four machine drivers.”
McNulty says there’s a constant stream of young Irish men turning up in the bar to find out what work may be on offer.
“You even get guys coming back from Australia — parts of Australia where they find it may not have been as good as they expected — and taking up work here,” he said.
“When they talk about back home the feeling is things may be picking up a bit in Dublin but not in Cork or Kerry or Donegal. But they’re more than happy to be here.”
The €17.3billion Crossrail project has been ongoing in London since 2009.
Due to open in 2018, it will run across the capital from west to east, with a central 21km section underground.
Massive 150-metre-long, 980-tonne tunnel boring machines are slowly snaking their way under the city, between the existing Tube network, sewers, electricity cables and underground rivers, at depths of up to 40 metres.
The tunnels are being constructed at a rate of 100 metres per week.
Last month, the dig unearthed skeletons belonging to victims of the 1348 Black Death.
The Museum of London is overseeing a number of archaeological digs that are taking place in tandem with Crossrail — one of the most significant is at Liverpool Street, where the remains of around 20,000 people were interred in the ‘Bedlam’ burial ground established in the 16th century.