Thursday, 26 June 2014
I have been approached confidentially by a concerned citizen who has made some very serious allegations about the operation of State construction contracts awarded and managed by the Department of Education and Skills. The whistleblower claims that a number of important State contracts have been awarded to legitimate operators but that the work is then being carried out by subcontractors who are ignoring basic terms and conditions for workers, facilitating wholesale social welfare fraud and failing to meet their statutory obligations.
One example is the refurbishment and extension of St. Patrick's College in Drumcondra, the contract for which was awarded to a major building contractor who operates legitimately in this State. However, the work is being done by a subcontractor registered outside this jurisdiction. The whistleblower claims that this subcontractor is paying rates which are far below the market rate and is facilitating workers to continue to receive a social welfare payment. This allows the subcontractor to undermine legitimate builders; it undercuts builders who are trying to employ people legitimately and who are making PRSI contributions; it takes money out of the social protection system that has already seen cuts to child benefit, the respite care allowance, the jobseeker's rate for those under 25; and, it flies in the face of the stated objective of the Action Plan for Jobs to help tradesmen to get back to work. Most important, however, the law is being broken and the contract is the Minister's responsibility.
The whistleblower also claims that this will come as no surprise to the Minister for Education and Skills because he approached him, in the first instance, to reveal this practice. He also went to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to alert her to the social protection fraud that was going on but nothing appears to have been done. Can the Minister confirm that the whistleblower came to him with this information? Can he outline what he has done about it? Will the Minister agree with me that this practice, which puts legitimate employers out of business and facilitates wholesale social welfare fraud, is completely unacceptable?