Workers on Government-funded building project ‘employees’

Department ruling on status means workers may be entitled to range of PRSI benefits

A spokesman for JJ Rhatigan said the firm disagreed with the finding and planned to appeal the decision on the workers’ status. Photograph: Getty Images

A spokesman for JJ Rhatigan said the firm disagreed with the finding and planned to appeal the decision on the workers’ status. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A State authority has determined that a number of construction workers on a Government-funded school building project were employees and not self-employed subcontractors, as had been claimed.

The workers’ employment status was at the centre of a five-month dispute at Kishoge Community College, Lucan, Dublin which ended in January of this year following a Labour Court intervention.

The Unite trade union claimed JJ Rhatigan & Co was using a web of subcontracting which resulted in its members earning less than €5 an hour over a five-month period. The claims were rejected by the firm.

Appeal

Department of Social Protection

A spokesman for JJ Rhatigan last night said the firm disagreed with the finding and planned to appeal the decision.

The finding means the company is likely to be liable for employer’s PRSI for the period in question, covering the workers for a range of entitlements such as jobseeker’s benefit and illness benefit.

Unite regional officer for construction Tom Fitzgerald said the department’s finding vindicated workers’ claims that they were employees.

“While we welcome the finding, it is disappointing that it took nearly a year for them to investigate the case and issue a decision – despite the fact that, when the issue first arose, we were advised by the Minister to seek redress through the department,” he said.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and if we had relied on that advice – rather than taking industrial action – our members would have had a long wait for justice.”

At the Labour Court in January, JJ Rhatigan, represented by the Construction Industry Federation, said all the company’s brickwork was carried out by subcontractors.

Any issues workers had over rates of pay and conditions of employment were with their immediate employer and not the company itself.

In its finding, the Labour Court recommended the firm allocate €100,000 to be divided among the affected workers, in accordance with a schedule of payments agreed by the union.

Investigations

Joint investigations uncovered almost 200 cases of “misclassification” of workers in the construction industry alone over the past year.

Employers who use self-employed contractors are free from obligations relating to employment protection legislation and, in many cases, facelower PRSI contributions.

Revenue and the department recently set up a working group following concern about whether Irish law is fit to capture the complexity of modern employment relationships.