Cork construction workers left in limbo due to expired Safe Passes

Cork construction workers left in limbo due to expired Safe Passes
Construction restarted on some projects in Cork this week but one worker has raised issues with Safe Passes

A NUMBER of construction workers in Cork have been “left in limbo” and cannot return to work due to out of date Safe Passes.

While there is provision for those whose passes expired after March 1 this year to be allowed to return to work, those who have passes that expired prior to that date cannot go back to their jobs as there are no training programmes currently taking place.

Cork man Finbar O’Connor has been offered two jobs in as many weeks and has had to turn down both. 

His Safe Pass went out of date prior to March 1.

As a diabetic, prior to lockdown his doctor was concerned for his health at work due to a lack of social distancing and PPE. 

He said that his concerns resulted in a row with his employer and he left his job.

That, he said, resulted in his Safe Pass not being renewed, and his previous employer didn’t inform him that it was out of date.

Mr O’Connor is also not eligible for €350 per week and is on significantly less, due to this happening prior to the implementation of the Covid-19 unemployment payment.

He has been working in the industry for 22 years, and feels that he should now be permitted to return to work, and would be happy to do so with the stringent measures in place in the construction industry now.

He has tried to contact Solas, who runs the Safe Pass course, as well as Minister Pat Breen on the issue to see if anything can be done.

“I’m in limbo and I can’t go back to work. It’s probably going to be July.

“I’m ready to go back to work and earn a wage now, and there are precautions in place. 

"I’m delighted that CIF have taken precautions. When you’re a Banksman, because you lift things with the crane, everybody wants to talk to you so you come into contact with a lot of people,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Now they have face guards and masks and the proper PPE for the Banksmen because they come into contact with the most people. 

"I’m happy now to go back on site because I feel that precautions have been taken for me to work safely.

“I didn’t feel the right safety was in place before the lockdown, and that’s why I had that disagreement,” he added.

Another construction worker in Cork, who did not wish to be named, said he should have been back at work three weeks ago as he’s working on a social housing development.

His Safe Pass also went out of date prior to March 1, and he has contacted Solas on the issue, but hasn’t been given any definitive answers.

He’s also not receiving the Covid-19 unemployment payment, and has a family to support.

“My job is there. I can go back to work as long as I have my Safe Pass but I can’t go back until I have it. It’s a disaster to be honest about it,” he said.

“All I want to do is go back to work. I don’t like being out of work,” he added.

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould has called for the issues to be rectified.

“These are workers who have previously undertaken and passed Safe Pass courses and who are well versed in Health and Safety requirements on construction sites. We need to find a way to allow these workers to return to their jobs,” he said.

He said that given the Solas.ie website already has a portal to allow workers to gain a replacement pass if it is lost or stolen, it should now be adapted to facilitate the required extensions.

“Solas have stated that they may be in a position to resume the programmes in June but these workers have jobs waiting for them today,” Deputy Gould said.

“While we have to ensure that health and safety comes first we also have to find pragmatic and common-sense solutions for workers whose workplaces are reopened under the roadmap,” he added.

Speaking to The Echo, SIPTU Organiser for the construction sector Pearse McCarthy said that Solas had written to the Minister and SIPTU will be contacting the Minister also as they are eager to run a Safe Pass course when they’re given clearance.

When contacted, Minister Pat Breen said that he was looking into the matter. “I’m going to get clarification in relation to those (passes) that expired prior to March 1. I have had a couple of enquiries on it myself,” he said, adding that the Department was investigating the issue.

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