Using ex-prisoners as workers to solve crisis in building sector ‘totally inadequate’

A proposal to attract ex-prisoners to work in construction has been described as a “totally inadequate” response to a staffing crisis that threatens the viability of building firms by a representative body in the sector.

The Sunday Independent has learned that the Irish Plant Contractors Association (IPCA) was approached earlier this month by the Department of Justice about a scheme to provide employment to people with criminal histories.

Subcontractors had said they were open to the scheme, subject to certain conditions such as the provision of indemnity and funding for training. But at a meeting last week they had also expressed huge disappointment in the government response to the problems in the industry, Brian Coogan of the IPCA said.

The body had previously been approached by the Department of Social Protection in 2021 about a scheme to bring long-term unemployed people into the sector.

Sub contractors had been told at a presentation by department officials that the scheme was expected to attract 10,000 applicants by offering six-month work placements to long term unemployed applicants who would receive €100 extra a week on top of their social welfare payment for taking up work placements.

The scheme attracted only a tiny number of applicants with just five people expressing an interest in working in the building sector, it is understood.

Construction firms were struggling to hire staff with many young recruits quitting the sector and moving to Australia for better wages and a better lifestyle, said Coogan.

The organisation, which represents a large number of firms, said the crisis now threatens the viability of many smaller builders and subcontractors in particular.

“Construction is going to come to a complete stop in this country,” he said. “You just cannot get the high skilled workers that we need. We have been telling the Government this for three years and now we are seeing projects stalled because of this problem. Work is stagnating because government contracts have dried up so workers are leaving the industry. It’s a vicious circle.”

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