Pension scheme concerns spark probe

THE country’s largest single pension scheme is to be reviewed by the Pensions Board following concerns that thousands of construction firms are flouting the law, depriving workers of death and sickness benefits.

Although all construction firms have a legal obligation to register their employees in the Construction Federation Operatives Pension Scheme (CFOPS), it is believed that up to 50,000 workers have not been registered.

Instead, non-compliant firms pocket the weekly contributions, doing widows and relatives out of benefits when a worker dies.

Non-compliance is so extensive that some of the largest construction firms as well as multinational companies have been found cheating their workers out of entitlements.

Earlier this year, the Irish Examiner revealed serious compliance breaches across the industry, at the Dublin Port Tunnel and in other firms carrying out State and public sector contracts.

Now, following complaints from unions, non-compliance in the scheme is to be examined in detail by the Pensions Board and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment. The board has tendered out the job to an as-yet undecided firm which will begin studying the CFOPS scheme later this month. Under the terms of the review, all areas of non-compliance are to be examined with a view to tackling the scale of the problem, while the scheme's monitoring procedures will be evaluated.

Controversially, the scheme's policing-element the Construction Industry Monitoring Agency (CIMA) cannot investigate non-compliance among any firms belonging to the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).

Instead, under an agreement registered in the Labour Court, CIMA is only allowed to pursue non-CIF firms a persistent bone of contention among unions.

However, in a bid to address union concerns, the CIF has brought in private firm Contract Administration Services (CAS) to police non-compliance among member firms.

SIPTU's Eric Fleming a union trustee of the CFOPS scheme said it was a great step forward.

Building and Allied Trades' Union (BATU) general secretary and CFOPS trustee Paddy O'Shaughnessy also welcomed the review.

The administrator of the CFOPS scheme, Pat Ferguson, declined to respond to messages left yesterday.

However, monitoring agency boss Paul O'Brien said good progress had been made in the last two years with 12,679 new members added from 1,084 employers bringing in a total of €15m in contributions.

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