How are subcontractors supposed to understand the plethora of contract documents presented to them by building contractors? Well they’re not. I used to wonder whether the complication was by design or default. I’ll let you figure that out. Advising a substantial subcontractor recently on a high value subcontract, it became clear from the subcontract document pack that lots of documents form part of the subcontract, the language is technical and its confusing to cross reference and follow. Truth is that most subcontractors are happy to get the job and don’t want to read the dull stuff. The bright ones get someone else to do it. So here’s what a standard building subcontract is mostly made up of: (i) appointment letter (ii) CIF subcontract (iii) Contractor’s standard amendments to the subcontract (iv) Contractor’s specific amendments to the CIF subcontract (v) the main contract between the Contractor and the Employer (vi) the full set of tender documents (vii) specifications and drawings (viii) any notes from meetings pre contract. That’s not an insignificant amount of bumf. The Contractor never provides a copy of the main contract, which is critical when it comes to understanding notices, measurements and claims under the subcontract. The subcontractor is expected to seek inspection of the main contract at the Contractor’s Office. In theory. Rarely do they get a copy of the CIF subcontract. Rarely is anything signed as most subbies just start the work. Once they start then they are deemed to agree with all the terms without a single amendment. So the Contractor always wins? Probably not if the subcontractor actively reviews what they are getting themselves into and negotiates amendments. Or they get a lawyer to do it.
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