Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pension Time-bomb

The Government routinely warns us of the pensions time-bomb and many measures are under consideration to actively promote worker participation in pension schemes.

Yet the Pensions Ombudsman has recently warned that up to 130,000 workers in the Irish Construction Industry, up to 50% of all those employed in the sector, are ineligible for pensions, sick pay, unemployment benefits etc because their employers are failing to make PRSI contributions on their behalf.

The Construction Industry has been one of the largest, if not the largest, beneficiaries of the Celtic Tiger economy, as well as benefiting from most of the Government’s tax-based investment schemes. Coincidentally, it’s also the biggest contributor to Fianna Fail coffers.

In the Dail today, Deputy Joe Higgins (Socialist Workers Party) questioned the Taoiseach on apparent Government inaction on the findings of the Pensions Ombudsman. In response, the Taoiseach’s lack of outrage, or even interest, was palpable. This behaviour by construction firms was “inappropriate”, and only if they were deducting employee PRSI and failing to pass it on did he choose to deem it “illegal”.

In conclusion, he invited Deputy Higgins to pass on the names of offending firms, a similar invitation to that extended to the families of Stardust victims.

Many thousands of Irish building workers have found, to their cost, the long-term drawbacks of working “on the lump” in the UK in decades past. They were exploited by unscrupulous contractors, many of them Irish, who made their fortunes by cheating the system.

It looks like we’re set to relearn that lesson in future decades in Ireland unless this Taoiseach and his Government recognise that it’s their responsibility to find and punish the culprits.

Footnote: Published as a letter by the Irish Independent.

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