October 19th: Unite has called on the Department of Education to intervene urgently to prevent exploitation of workers on school building projects. Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald made the call as the official dispute between Unite and construction company JJ Rhatigan & Co. enters its sixth week. Pickets at the company’s Kishoge Community College site resumed last week following a High Court ruling that Unite is entitled to place pickets at three of the company’s sites, notwithstanding an attempt by JJ Rhatigan & Co to obtain an injunction preventing pickets.
“As a result of the complex system of sub-contracting employed by JJ Rhatigan & Co., workers on a government-funded project have been forced into bogus self-employment earning less than €5 per hour. Put another way, workers building a school for our children earn less than the National Minimum Wage, and less than a third of the nationally agreed rate in the construction industry.
“This issue goes beyond our current dispute with JJ Rhatigan & Co. Unite is aware of abuses on a range of school-building projects, and during the summer we intervened to secure our members’ rights in several instances.
“In a race to the bottom, unscrupulous construction companies have been underbidding each other to secure Department of Education contracts. With around 50 per cent of school building projects currently under construction, JJ Rhatigan & Co. has come out top in this race to the bottom – at the expense of workers’ pay and conditions.
“The Department of Education needs to do two things. It needs to review its compliance mechanisms urgently to ensure that workers are not collateral damage when contracts are handed out to the lowest bidder. And, in the longer term, it needs to step back and review the criteria used when contracts are awarded.
“While the Government might appear to be saving money in obtaining a cut-price school, poverty pay entails costs to the Exchequer, the economy and society as a whole”, Tom Fitzgerald concluded.