A disgruntled construction worker was sacked today after scaling a 52-metre crane in a dangerous lone protest over the pension rights of builders.
Union official Paul Hansard claimed he took the drastic action at a building site in Dublin because his bosses were not complying with employment legislation.
His employer, Gmac Scaffolding, based in Strabane, Co Tyrone has strenuously denied allegations that it was not paying pension contributions for Irish workers.
Mr Hansard and his son, Dean, were both fired over the risky stunt.
The pair had been working as scaffolders for a sub-contractor on the new Sean O’Casey Community Centre at St Mary’s Road, East Wall, near Dublin’s Docklands.
When that firm went bust just a few weeks ago the project developer, PJ Hegarty and Sons, brought in Gmac to take over scaffolding.
Mr Hansard, a Siptu union official, alleged Gmac were being investigated for non-compliance and refused to work for them.
“As the chairman of Siptu’s construction branch I could not live with myself working with a non-compliant sub-contractor and I wasn’t prepared to do so,” he said.
Mr Hansard said he demanded the developer employ him and his son directly or bring in a new sub-contractor.
But when the Gmac employees turned up at the site this morning Mr Hansard scaled the crane towering overhead in protest.
“I felt I had no other option here because nobody seemed to be listening,” he said.
“How could anyone expect the chairman of Dublin’s (Siptu) construction branch to work for a non-compliant contractor on a government project?”
But Gearoid McGarrigle, director of Gmac, robustly denied that his firm had acted outside the law and insisted both men had been signed up for pensions.
“As far as I’m concerned the issue has been resolved and they no longer work for Gmac,” he said.
“I’m above board in everything I have done. They have never ever once rung me to ask for clarification to say if they were signed up, or if they weren’t signed up.”
Mr McGarrigle said paperwork regarding pension contributions for the pair, who have been on Gmac’s payroll for two weeks, was being processed.
Contractors have two weeks, under the legislation, to enrol new employees with the pension scheme.
Siptu officials, who are meeting with PJ Hegarty and Sons again tomorrow, said they had received assurances Gmac would be taken off the site until an investigation was complete.
Mr Hansard was finally enticed down from the crane almost seven hours into his lone protest.
“This is Bertie Ahern’s pet project for this area to keep Fianna Fáil with votes in this area – and this is happening on this site,” he said.
“And ordinary builders out there – what chance have they got? So I had to make a stand.”
PJ Hegarty and Sons said all firms working on its projects had to comply with the law.
“It is company policy for sub-contractors to comply with the terms of the National Pay Agreement and employer legislation and the company is pleased that the protester has come down safely from the crane,” a spokeswoman said.