Walking through the halls of the Construction Employers Federation, it’s hard not to get a sense of history about the place. After all, with 75 years under its belt you would be hard pressed to find anyone working in the construction industry that remembers a time without the CEF.
And, while it’s 75-years of the CEF we’re celebrating this month, in truth, the Federation can trace its history back a lot longer. All the way to the 1890’s in fact, through the Belfast Builders Association whose original minute books can still be found in the Federation’s strong room. In those days each major area had its own Master Builders Association and although more than a century has passed the CEF still retains its historic links with these local associations.
It wasn’t until 1945 that the Federation as we know it was formed under the somewhat less catchy name of ‘The Federation of Building Trade Employers of Northern Ireland Ltd’ (FBTENI), at the behest of government who wanted to speak with one unified organisation about the industry during the post-war reconstruction of Belfast and the main towns in Northern Ireland. Hence, the Federation was born with James P Graham as its first President and Myles Witham as Managing Director. Their portraits still hang today among a rogue’s gallery along the walls of the grand staircase in the Federation’s Malone Road offices.
In 1946, only a year after its incorporation, the CEF made clear it was an organisation with the best interests of construction workers at its heart by introducing the Construction Holiday Pay Scheme, something that may seem like a given now, but at the time was a revolutionary advance for industry workers who back then had no entitlements surrounding holiday pay.
In the late 1970’s, the Federation moved from its old offices on Upper Queen Street to its current home at 143 Malone Road. A change of name followed, as the FBTENI was replaced with the even larger mouthful of ‘The Federation of Building & Civil Engineering Contractors (NI) Ltd’. Even still, the lack of a catchy name didn’t stop the Federation from pushing ahead with more schemes construction professionals today would be lost without, not least the Construction Benefits Scheme, introduced in 1975, and a pension scheme in 1982.
Finally, in the 1990’s, the name was changed to the more easily remembered ‘Construction Employers Federation’ and the CEF of today came into being.
The overarching goal, however, remained the same and the CEF continued to protect the interests of those engaged in the construction industry, becoming instrumental in the promotion of ongoing training and better health and safety standards, with schemes like the Construction Skills Register and Safe-T-Cert accreditation.
More recently, the CEF has led the industry response to the Covid-19 crisis, setting up a member-led Task Force to collate the best guidance available and making this accessible not just to members but to the entire industry. The Federation has also been active at Stormont, using its influence to press the NI Executive to invest already allocated budgets in the recovery before they are forced to return unspent monies to the Treasury. After 75-years, it’s safe to say that the Construction Employers Federation is showing no signs of slowing down.