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Free money? Estimated 20,000 construction workers not going back to jobs because they are on PUP

'That money will have to be paid back'

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Plans to construct 40,000 homes will not happen if workers are not encouraged to go back to work

Plans to construct 40,000 homes will not happen if workers are not encouraged to go back to work

Plans to construct 40,000 homes will not happen if workers are not encouraged to go back to work

The Government has been urged to crack down on the 20,000 workers in the construction sector who are not going back to their jobs because they are on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). 

According to the CEO of the Irish Plant Contractors Association, Brian Coogan, many of these workers are living abroad while living off “free money”.

Mr Coogan told Newstalk Breakfast that thousands of foreign workers - primarily from eastern Europe - who went back to their own countries throughout the pandemic continued to stay there.

"We're looking at over 20,000 construction workers not returning to work,” he said. "The Government, some time ago when construction was re-opened, issued a notice that if your job's available you should return to work.

"So, these jobs are available, and we feel that construction workers should be directed to go back to work if there are jobs available to them."

He added that, based on a figure of 20,000, workers "is about €7.2 million per week.

"And if you look at that over a month, it's €32m per month. We estimate that it would literally be thousands of foreign workers - primarily from eastern Europe - who throughout the pandemic went back to their own countries [and] continued to stay there.

"And if you look at the example of €350, say if you're in Romania or Poland, €350 a week that's a fair bit of money to be getting on a weekly basis".

He says workers are getting the Covid-19 payment and living abroad "without doubt".

"Within our organisation there's about 65 members and a poll of 50/52 of those companies: most of these firms have workers that are from an eastern European background.

"And it's quite bizarre to think that your job's available, but you're living in another country and you're getting that pandemic payment."

He is calling on the Government to take tougher action.

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"I suppose I think the Government needs to apply more pressure to say to these construction workers 'Your job's available, you should return to work immediately.

"And bear in mind, even pre-pandemic the construction industry was facing significant headwinds in terms of labour shortages.

"Leo Varadkar announced there recently that there's a plan to construct 40,000 homes: there's not a chance we're going to be able to achieve those objectives if you don't do something drastically to encourage workers to get back to work."

He adds the situation is happening on large scale, branding it "farcical".

"It is without doubt happening on a fairly grand scale, it does seem to us to be farcical.

"Essentially we're throwing money down the drain.

"Essentially it's free money... most of us would accept free money, but I suppose we're approaching a time where this massive COVID spend on money has to end.

"That money will have to be paid back."

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