Probe into construction rip-off urged by workers

BUILDERS' labourers, angry at a multi-million euro construction industry fraud, yesterday demanded that the Government investigate and jail those responsible.

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

Picketing outside the Department of Justice, up to 100 workers called on Justice Minister Michael McDowell to address a fraud which has seen thousands of construction firms withhold pension contributions from their workers for decades.

An Irish Examiner investigation last week 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 worth €35m annually.

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.

Other firms named were responsible for families of deceased workers receiving no mortality benefit because contributions had not been paid. At yesterday's protest, Alan Pleydell, whose son Seán was one of those who died without benefits, said companies were defrauding their workers every week.

"We didn't realise at the time but when Seán was killed we found out afterwards that his employer was paying nothing, so we were entitled to nothing," he said.

Addressing the crowd, the president of SIPTU's Dublin construction branch, Paul Hansard, said the practice of large companies ripping off workers had gone on for far too long.

"Hundreds of families have been ripped off for over 40 years, yet despite this, no one has gone to jail. Tens of thousands of workers are not getting their rights to pensions, sick entitlements, and in the case of widows, mortality benefits. This is a justice issue and a lot of people in the industry are not getting justice," he said.

SIPTU's Dublin construction branch secretary, Eric Fleming, said workers were now prepared to engage in industrial action against non-compliant companies. "Enough is enough. Robbery is robbery. No matter what way you look at it, this is being done with malice and full knowledge. These companies are not paying and the workers and their families are the people who are paying the price," he said.

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