Jail pension fraudsters, say builders

BUILDERS angered at a multi-million euro pension fraud will picket the Department of Justice on Monday and demand that those responsible are jailed.

An Irish Examiner investigation last week revealed thousands of construction firms were ripping off their workers by ignoring their legal obligation to pay pension benefits.

By law all construction workers must be registered by their employers in the Construction Federation Operatives Pension Scheme (CFOPS). However, non-compliance in the industry is rampant.

Last week the Irish Examiner named and shamed some of the country’s largest construction firms and revealed how up to 50,000 construction employees were being cheated out of their pension and sickness benefits.

The firms, including international agency Atlanco Rimec and leading Cork builder John J Fleming, were responsible for some of the largest breaches of the pension scheme in recent years.

Employer contributions worth between €35 million and €100m annually have been pocketed by non-compliant construction firms for decades, in a breach of pensions law being investigated by the Pensions Board.

Following the revelations SIPTU’s Dublin Construction Branch secretary, Eric Fleming said: “At our protest we will be demanding justice for building workers and calling for action - including jail sentences - to put an end to the widespread robbery of pension contributions.”

Alluding to criticism that the construction industry lobby group - the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) - were not doing enough to tackle non-compliance among member firms, Mr Fleming said: “Constructions unions are anxious to see the CIF imposing severe penalties - including expulsion - for any construction employer found to be willfully evading their obligations in respect of workers’ pension and death benefits.”

Apart from firms which attempt to register employees only after a death on site has occurred, many other companies evade their obligations by registering only a small number of their workforce, while others are keeping pension money by deducting contributions from pay packets without handing it over to the scheme.

Mr Fleming said SIPTU was determined to crack down on the unacceptable culture of non-compliance in the building industry and promised to take action by naming and shaming employers engaged in fraud.

“It is unacceptable that this level of non-compliance be allowed to freely continue. Families of building workers are the real victims of this pension robbery. Too many widows are being deprived of the mortality benefits they are entitled to,” he said.

Meanwhile building unions and the Construction Industry Federation have agreed to a significant enhancement of the pension scheme involving a doubling of contribution payments and an increase in mortality benefit from €22,000 to €63,000.

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