Cape Town - A while ago I was bold enough to state: “First tip: never, never never pay a deposit; your money is being used to finish the last customer’s job.”
After all, how often do we hear friends say they gave the contractor money and did not hear from him again?
I was attacked by the construction industry en masse for saying this and although in my heart of hearts I still believe it is the right way to go, things are changing, and contractor after contractor is falling by the wayside because more and more customers are resorting to non-payment.
I agree standards are falling, and in many instances customers are correct to hold back payment for non-performance, but we also have others who quite happily sign a contract they know they cannot afford.
The industry is in a mess, and I really do want to appeal to you – the client base out there – not to over-extend, and to pay for the work that has been done. The implications of not paying go far beyond just ripping off your contractor.
No money to the contractor means no money for the workforce, which means no food on the table for his family, or the poor sub-contractor who can’t pay his supplier so his account is cut and he is out of business. I realise this is really basic economics but the industry is battling, so please try to be fair to all concerned.
I promised that at some stage this year I would be attacking non-compliant contractors but, as with my feelings on deposits, I am beginning to doubt if this is fair. Is it possible to enforce rules in an industry where so many people are prepared to turn a blind eye? The only ones being caught out are those who are trying to follow the rules. The informal industry is now so large and being used by so many customers large and small that to survive you need to break, or at the very least bend, the rules.
But at the end of the day this is wrong, so I would like to launch a public appeal to the Building Industry Bargaining Council whose torch I have been carrying for the year, to please get your agents out on the roads, not the main roads where contractors are proud to display their boards, but on the back roads where unregistered contractors are carrying out work with unregistered foreign labour at rates of pay that are far below the recommended minimum wage.
As long as Mr and Mrs Jones are prepared to pay a cheap price for sub-standard work we are never going to have money to reopen the training colleges – which were once rated among the best in the world – and encourage young men and women to come back into the industry, be properly trained and deliver quality work.
This is my week for rants, and the last one is a go at the Department of Labour. I have always stressed that if you are having work done at home, you need to ensure your contractor has a health and safety plan, for if something goes wrong, you can be held liable for injuries to workers on your property.
This is particularly relevant now as the weather is improving so the inspectors are out and about inspecting sites.
Because you are an honest and conscientious contractor or client, you appoint a safety officer for your contract and he prepares a safety plan for the works. His job is to inform the Department of Labour that a specific job is being done at a specific time. Because you are on the system, you can expect a visit from an inspector who, because he needs to earn his salary, will go over your site with a fine-toothed comb and may well find something wrong.
But here’s the rub: your site is between two other building sites on which not a hard hat is to be seen. Scaffolding is held together with bits of wire, and the first aid box, if present at all, is empty.
As the inspector leaves your site, you point out these shortcomings on the other sites to the inspector and guess what, because the contractor or client has no safety plan, the contract has not been registered and therefore is not on the inspector’s list as it does not exist.
In all fairness, if one of these unregistered sites did have an accident the department would be all over them like a ton of bricks, but surely prevention is better than cure. - Weekend Argus