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15 May 05: Building Workers and Pensions Construction Federation Operatives' Pension Scheme statement from the Pensions Ombudsman

Following media reports in recent days regarding alleged failure of construction employers to make compulsory contributions to a mandatory pension scheme, Mr. Paul Kenny, Pensions Ombudsman, said today that in the two years since taking up office he has received a steady trickle of complaints regarding unpaid contributions to the Construction Federation Operatives’ Pension Scheme (CFOPS). CFOPS was set up to meet the requirements of a Labour Court Agreement to provide pension, mortality and sick pay benefits for workers in the construction industry.
Mr Kenny noted that the number of complaints had increased considerably since the start of 2005 and complaints have involved workers who, apart from losing in terms of their pension entitlements, have also been deprived of death in service and sickness benefit cover under the scheme, because their contributions were not paid to date. He is concerned that there are employers in the construction industry who are not honouring their obligations to workers – either by failing to register them in the scheme, by under-paying their contributions or by engaging in various questionable tactics to try to deny their obligations altogether. Mr. Kenny is also worried that some employers may be deducting contributions from the wages of workers and not remitting them to the scheme. He pointed out that this is a criminal offence under the Pensions Act which can result in the imposition of fines, prison terms, or both.
The Pensions Ombudsman can only deal with individual complaints, not with group complaints, although several of the cases he has dealt with have resulted in contributions being paid for a number of other workers as well for as the person who made the initial complaint.
Mr. Kenny said “I would like aggrieved workers to get in contact with my Office –in particular I would like to hear from the dependants of deceased construction workers who feel they should have received a benefit under the scheme. While I can’t solve every problem, I can investigate what’s been happening and try to obtain redress, where appropriate”.
In conclusion, Mr. Kenny acknowledged that dealing with individual complaints is no substitute for achieving widespread compliance with the Labour Court Agreement within the industry, but hoped that his Office could be of help to individual workers who are experiencing problems in this area.
The Pensions Ombudsman
The Office of the Pensions Ombudsman is provided for under the Pensions Act, 1990 and Mr. Paul Kenny was appointed the State’s first Pensions Ombudsman on 28 April 2003. The Office of the Pensions Ombudsman itself was officially established in September 2003. The role of the Pensions Ombudsman is to investigates and decide on complaints disputes concerning occupational pension schemes and Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSA). The Ombudsman is completely independent in the performance of these functions and acts as an impartial adjudicator.
The Pensions Ombudsman investigates complaints that allege maladministration leading to financial loss by those responsible for the management of an occupational pension scheme or PRSA. The complaint may be against trustees, managers, employers, former employers and administrators (including PRSA Providers). The Pensions Ombudsman can also investigate disputes of fact or law relating to occupational pension schemes or PRSAs.
Paul Kenny
Pensions Ombudsman
36 Upper Mount St,
Dublin 2.
01 647 1650
Press Enquiries to Gerard Hughes
01 647 1654
087 139 4115