Listen to the major building contractors and they all confirm that there is a real shortage of skilled labour in the industry. The reason is simple - the construction industry tanked in '08 and skilled construction labour left for Canada and Australia in droves and to a lesser extent to the UK and US to avoid the lengthening dole queues. Listen to Tom Parlon and the news media and they will confirm until the cows come home that there are lorry loads of work for our emigrants. And quite right Parlon is. Parlon rightly recognises that industry growth will be stymied if spiraling costs of specialist subcontractors continue. However the emigrants are not sufficiently responding to Parlon's call.
If we listen to the subcontractors and the emigrants themselves its easy to figure out why. The pendulum of power has now swung from contractors to subcontractors. Our contractors have essentially morphed into pricing specialists and project managers so in reality all work and skills are subcontracted out. Many subcontractors, particularly in mechanical and electrical fields are refusing to work for certain contractors because of historic mistreatment and a reputation for non payment. Contractors think its back to business as usual but its not. Not that we need a 'truth and reconciliation' programme in the construction industry but the industry and contractors in particular need to acknowledge just how poorly subcontractors were treated from mid 2008 to 2011.
I was representing many subcontractors at the time. Many had solid claims for payment, often for hundreds of thousands against contractors. On a without prejudice basis the contractors acknowledged that the claims were solid. However on an official basis counterclaims were concocted to intimidate the subcontractor and very often we were told that the subcontractors' claims could rot in arbitration for years (while the subcontractor goes out of business) or else the subcontractor could accept a full and final fraction of their claim. Countless subcontractors went out of business despite taking the 'soup' out of desperation. Granted several well known contractors went to the wall as well.
The cashflow problem was exacerbated by arbitration being the default method of dispute resolution. On average it takes roughly 2 years to conclude an arbitration. Thankfully adjudication allows for such a simple cash claim to be decided on with in one month instead of two years. But adjudication is only part of the solution.
The Gombeen culture continues to thrive in the Irish construction industry. That is a culture based on screwing the smaller guy over to make an 'extra few pound'. Talking to skilled Irish subcontractors operating in the UK, they say that the culture over there is so much different, more professional, better regulated and where a person's word can be trusted but is usually backed up in writing.
The individual emigrant will tell you how well things are going, how excellent their quality of life is, how well they have settled in and settled down, perhaps with a loved one, maybe with kids. For many but by no means all. After all they have been there for the best part of a decade. What they will not tell you is the magnitude of their personal trauma and that they are very unlikely to allow that trauma happen again.
Are they expected to drop all of that because of Parlon's call? Its a tall order and certainly not attractive enough given the personal tax policy in Ireland and of course the continuing culture of gombeenism.
Larry Fenelon is the managing partner of Leman Solicitors, specialist solicitors to building subcontractors. For further information call Larry on +35316393000.
The days of Irish construction workers having to leave the country to find work are over, said Construction Industry Federation (CIF) director general Tom Parlon. The former Minister of State at the Department of Finance was in Galway yesterday to officially launch the Castle Ceilings Interior Systems Traineeship programme in Ballybrit. Mr Parlon urged construction workers to avail of the 80 positions the programme offers this year, which give the opportunity to up-skill and gain employment in different areas. The new scheme is being run by the Galway Roscommon Training Education Board and the Castle Ceilings and Partitions firm in conjunction with CIF in order to get building workers back into employment.