Wednesday, 4 July 2018
Schools Building Contractors
I thank Senator Gavan for raising this matter and I acknowledge his work in respect of workers rights. I also welcome Mr. Porfireanu and his family to the Gallery.
As Senator Gavan will be aware a building project is a complex contractual arrangement between the client, the main contractor, specialist subcontractors, domestic subcontractors, suppliers of materials, suppliers of plant and so on. In general, all subcontractors employed on education sector building projects are employed directly by the main contractor or indirectly by the main contractor through subcontractors. As provided for in legislation, it is a matter for all subcontractors to agree terms and conditions and a schedule of payments with the main contractor as their direct employer.As these contracts involve contractual matters between private companies, my Department has no authority to intervene in these matters. I have checked this point. The Department, as funding authority, is not necessarily the employer under the public works contract on schools building projects. Where the Department does not own the site, the school management authority is normally the employer for the purposes of the public works contract. Many projects are devolved for delivery to outside agencies, such as education and training boards, the National Development Finance Agency, local authorities etc. In these cases the devolved agency would normally be the employer for the purposes of the public works contract. Also, in respect of non-compliance with relevant employment law, enforcement and prosecution falls under the remit of Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. Where the Department of Education and Skills becomes aware of issues regarding tax compliance or social welfare fraud, such matters are referred to the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or both, as appropriate.
The Department has taken a number of steps to deal with the use of bogus self-employment contractors on schools building projects. It has appointed an external consultant, Contractors Administration Service, CAS, to conduct random audits on schools building projects. Should irregularities be uncovered in terms of non-compliance with relevant employment law, enforcement and prosecution falls under the remit of the WRC and the Department reports any discrepancies found to it. If the audit uncovers any other matters of concern regarding tax compliance or social welfare fraud, such matters are referred to either the Revenue Commissioners or the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or both, as appropriate. My Department does not have the statutory powers to investigate such complaints. This rests with the WRC, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or the Revenue Commissioners, as appropriate.
It is worth drawing attention also to the advice on the WRC website with regard to enforcement of decisions that "If an Employer/Respondent (Employer) fails to carry out a decision of an Adjudication Officer of the Workplace Relations Commission, or a decision of the Labour Court arising from an appeal of an Adjudication Officer's decision, within the prescribed time, an application may be made to the District Court for an order directing the Employer to carry out the decision."
I do have sympathy for any subcontractor or worker who is not paid either appropriately or what is due. I have held detailed discussions with officials of my Department on this issue. We are bound by legislation and criteria laid down by the Department. I have no problem with meeting the particular family with the Senator. I would be delighted to do so because I know the Senator does a lot of work in the area of workplace relations. I am not afraid to acknowledge that. I am not too sure what I might be able to do but I would be prepared to meet the family to see if we could go further on this issue. It does concern me.