Workers block new section of M7

 

FORTY WORKERS blocked the final section of the new Dublin to Limerick motorway in Co Offaly yesterday, saying they not been paid since November 1st.

The workers said they would prevent the new 36km section of the motorway being opened until Taoiseach Brian Cowen, in whose constituency the section is located, took action to get their wages paid before Christmas.

The National Roads Authority (NRA) is responsible for funding the project, but authority chief executive Fred Barry said: “The local authority (not to mention the NRA) has no power to intervene in the commercial relationship between the contractor and his subcontractors and is not involved in the argument.”

The workers have the support of their employer, KC Civil Engineering, a subcontractor on the €345 million project.

Managing director of KC Civil Engineering Chris Wholey said his company had not been paid by the main contractor, Bowen Somague Joint Venture, which is in turn seeking payment of a conciliation award of €26 million from Laois County Council.

Mr Wholey said he had “a lot of sympathy” for the workers who were “all good men”.

“If I had the money to pay them I would, but I haven’t been paid, and the nature of the back-to-back contract is that if Bowen Somague do not get paid, then we do not get paid.”

This year Bowen Somague was awarded €26 million as a result of a conciliation process based on a claim against Laois County Council for money for additional work on the motorway.

However, the award is being appealed by the county council. While the process does provide for the council to pay the €26 million before arbitration, the council said it required a bond to be put in place to ensure the return of the money should it eventually win. The council told The Irish Times it had a duty to protect the public purse.

However, a spokeswoman for Bowen Somague said the company had already put up a 3 per cent insurance bond to ensure satisfactory completion of the motorway. The cost of a further bond was 100 per cent of its value, so there was no benefit in taking out a bond. The bond issue was something of a “red herring”.

She said all contractors and suppliers “have been paid up to date” for the original work, but she acknowledged some payments for the extra works had not been made because Bowen Somague had not been paid and the back-to-back contracts meant for everyone to be paid, the council must first pay.

She said Bowen Somague also had sympathy for the workers, and added: “It would be all fixed up if the council hadn’t appealed the conciliation award.”

Mr Barry told local Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan: “Any subcontractor who feels he is owed money should deal with it under the terms of his contract with Bowen Somague.”

However, last night Mr Wholey accused Mr Barry of “hiding behind the contract” and said the situation was unfair as it was not of his or his workers’ making.

He said the dispute was essentially between Bowen Somague, Laois County Council and the NRA, and he predicted his business might not survive if it had to endure a long arbitration process.

A spokesman for the workers who blockaded the site yesterday said they were hoping “some political clout” could be brought in just to pay the wages, even if the dispute was not solved.

He said there were about 30 employees of KC Civil Engineering as well as about 10-20 workers of other contractors or suppliers.

The motorway scheme is the last element of the Government’s €18 billion plan to link regional cities to the capital by 2010.