In absolute desperation, Paul Hansard chairman of SIPTUs Dublin Construction Branch; put his life at risk by climbing to the top of a 52 metre crane in order to highlight the pension rights of builders. Hansard is alleging that his employer, Gmac Scaffolding, is breaking the law by not paying pension contributions (Six One News, 9th item).
Hansard displayed a pay slip from a previous employer that had detailed all deductions and compared it with a pay slip from Gmac that did not itemise deductions or carry any mention of mandatory pension contributions.
“How could anyone expect the chairman of Dublin’s construction branch (SIPTU) to work for a non compliant contractor on a Government project? What chance have ordinary workers out there got? So I had to make a stand.”
His stand cost him his job and for good measure, Gmac also sacked his son.
This might seem like a minor industrial dispute and indeed it was treated as such by the media, especially RTE. But in fact what’s happening here is criminality on a massive scale. Criminality that politicians, police, unions and so called regulatory agencies are all aware of but do little or nothing to stop, criminality that has been going on since the 1960s.
By law, all building firms must register workers in the Construction Federation Operatives Pension Scheme (CFOPS) and pay pension and sickness contributions. The company share of the pension contribution is just over €6 per week. For this employees receive sickness benefits and a €65,000 mortality lump sum, payable to their families in the event of death.
So why did Paul Hansard feel the need to risk his life and livelihood in order to obtain his most basic rights when all these so called enforcement agencies are supposed to be working on his behalf?
The answer is simple – Ireland is a rotten and corrupt state where law enforcement is for the little people, where white collar crime has yet to be recognised never mind tackled.
Government agencies like the Pensions Board and the Pensions Ombudsman do a lot of talking but make very little effort to protect workers from white collar criminals.
Here’s a list of media reports that prove the point (My emphasis).
2004/13th January – Irish Examiner.
It is estimated as many as half the country’s 4,000 construction firms have illegally avoided their pension obligations since the scheme began in the 1960s.
An Irish Examiner investigation subsequently named and shamed some of the country’s largest firms and exposed them for ripping off workers. These included some of the country’s leading construction companies with lucrative contracts on major Government infrastructure projects.
2004/ 9th February – Irish Examiner.
Pensions Ombudsman Paul Kenny is to investigate the widespread abuse of pensions law in the construction industry.
Mr. Kenny said he was extremely worried that construction firms were failing to pay pension contributions for workers, with families being deprived of badly needed mortality benefits.
I would say this is an extremely worrying situation that people seem to have been able to ignore legal obligations,” said Mr. Kenny.
Up to 50,000 construction employees are being cheated of their pension and sickness benefits worth an estimated €35m annually.
Mr. Kenny said he was anxious to pursue any company responsible for seeing families lose benefits.
The survivors of anybody who dies on a building site or, indeed, anyone who should have been in that scheme who dies of natural causes are entitled to that benefit,” he said.
Mr. Kenny said he could investigate all cases of companies depriving families of mortality benefits going back six years to April 1996
2005/20th October – Irish Times.
The Ombudsman has signalled a tougher stance against construction industry employers, saying he will refer complaints where the law has been broken so that prosecutions can be taken.
Complaints received include failure to register employees; failure to pay over contributions already deducted from employees’ pay, which Mr. Kenny described as “theft and nothing more”; and unethical practices in which workers are forced to pretend to be self-employed.
Since its establishment in April 2003 up until the end of 2004, the Ombudsman’s office received over 450 official complaints and his office handled over 1,500 telephone queries. In 2004, the Ombudsman made 23 determinations, but only upheld seven complaints. So far this year, he has made 46 determinations, upholding 12 complaints.
A further 43 cases were also settled by mediation last year, with 33 per cent ending in some concession to the complainant.
2006/16th February – Irish Times.
Construction bosses are stealing at least €120 million a year from workers but “not one of them has faced any serious rigour of the law”, Socialist TD Joe Higgins claimed yesterday.
He was referring to the statement by the pensions Ombudsman that between 70,000 and 120,000 construction workers were being denied their legal and mandatory pension rights.
Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern said. It was a long-term issue and “having stronger legislation, a pensions ombudsman and proper investigation of the operation of pension schemes” were hugely beneficial.
2006/14th September – Irish Independent.
The Ombudsman also warns that construction firms which deduct workers’ pension payments and do not remit them to the scheme will be reported to the Garda Fraud Office for investigation.
“There are still depressing numbers of complaints about the failure of construction employers to register employees, or pay contributions or, worst of all, the theft by employers of contributions which have not been remitted.”
He made clear that builders would have to pay any pension arrears owing before new legislation came into force in July – and delay could cost them even more.
State authorities have the power to put an immediate stop to this outrageous abuse, theft and fraud. The legislation is there, the enforcement agencies are there and the State has full knowledge of the crimes being committed.
The obvious question is – Why isn’t the State acting against these criminals?
The answer is obvious to anyone with even the remotest knowledge of how things are done in this country.