Construction workers protest over pay and conditions

Trades unions claim abuses of skilled labour on school building projects and other sites

Workers protesting outside St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, Dublin, this morning. Photograph: Construction Group of Unions

Workers protesting outside St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, Dublin, this morning. Photograph: Construction Group of Unions

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 09:24

Construction and trade workers will protest outside the Department of Education today over pay and employment rights on school building projects.

It is one of a series of protests planned by the Construction Group of Unions as part of its ‘Campaign for Decent Work’, which commences today.

Workers protested at St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, Dublin, at 7am and were expected to follow this with a protest at the Department’s headquarters on Marlborough Street.

In a statement, the unions said that despite the fact they had informed the Department of Education and Skills of “the continued abuse of workers on school projects, the race to the bottom on these and other public contracts continues”.

“Workers are being forced to work as self-employed, despite the fact that they are clearly employees. This is done to drive wages even lower and to deny the workers concerned their pension and death-in-service entitlements as well as legal protection for holiday pay and other basic employment rights.”

The unions were aware of skilled tradespeople being paid as little as €250 a week on these sites, they said. Other employees had complained to the unions that they had received no payments in the last month.

“In spite of the fact that the Irish taxpayer is paying for these projects, few opportunities are given to local skilled building workers or unemployed apprentices to get back to work. Employment agencies, some of very dubious repute, are sourcing most of their exploited cheap labour from outside the state,” the unions claimed.

They claimed the department had continued to award new contracts to the contractors involved despite having been made aware of the abuses.

“This campaign will intensify and will continue until the practice of forcing workers to be self-employed ceases and until decent working conditions are restored to the industry.”

Responding to the allegations last month, the department issued a list of examples where audits were undertaken by the Contractors Administration Service (CAS), a body that conducts audits on departmental building projects, in response to complaints made.

“CAS have completed 16 random audits on school/college construction sites with 1 audit ongoing.

“As a result of the random audits information, five projects have been referred to the Revenue Commissioners, one to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and one to the National Employment Rights Authority, ” it said.

It also cited a case where it said the CAS forced a contractor to pay money owed to workers following a discovery of shortfalls in wage payments.

The school building programme commenced in 2012 and aims to provide 219 new schools at all levels across the State before 2017. It was estimated that the works would employ 15,000 people directly and 30,000 indirectly.