by Bill North
SUBCONTRACTORS left reeling from the Ostwald Bros collapse are no closer to collecting unpaid debts.
The company abandoned the Glenugie to Tyndale section (Wave 5A) of the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade on August 25, leaving 200 workers out of a job.
More than two months later, as many as 23 unpaid subcontractors are uncertain whether they will ever recover their losses.
"We lost $289,000 direct to Ostwalds plus we're up for three months wages, fuel and taxes in the region of $400,000," Grafton's Gerry McMullan of G. McMullan Contracting told The Daily Examiner.
"It's caused a lot of stress for our company. It's a fair bit of money to lose. We had to put four people off.
"I think the government should be held responsible. It's a government job, and we should get paid from the government. Why does it have to go through three different hands to get to us? It hasn't been handled well at all. People knew about it and did nothing, and they're just turning a blind eye to it now."
Mr McMullan and his wife Kathy were two of about 20 subcontractors, employees and union representatives affected by the collapse who attended an Ostwald Bros Unpaid Wave 5A Creditors meeting on Sunday at Jacaranda Motor Lodge, which was provided for free by Tony Stackhouse in support of their plight.
"We've been going 20 years and this sort of thing has never happened," Mrs McMullan added. "And I don't think that they did their due diligence in making sure that all the contractors from the top to the very bottom were doing the right thing. They've got to have protocols in place to cover that as well."
An unpaid creditor, who chaired the meeting and wished to remain unnamed, said there were two main objectives for the meeting.
"The purpose of today is to look at alternative means of getting the unpaid monies," the creditor said.
"The second objective is to look at how we can reform the industry to safeguard subbies on government contracts into the future. The system's broken, subbies don't get the protection they need. Steps need to be put in place to ensure accountability.
"This will be a good brainstorming session, but what we really need is a direct conversation with Pac(ific) Complete, RMS and the government to get things done."
According to the creditor, Ostwald Bros, Seymour Whyte, Pacific Complete, RMS and several government officials were invited to the meeting. None were in attendance.
"We've also contacted Kevin Hogan, Chris Gulaptis, Andrew Fraser and had no response," the chair said at the start of the meeting. "Is there anyone else here with a government connection? ... No."
There was reportedly no response to the invitation from Minister for Roads Melinda Pavey's office, while Pacific Highway general manager GM Bob Higgins did send sent his apologies and representatives of the Unpaid Wave 5A Creditors were planning to meet with him this week.
"Ironically, we went to an RMS meeting in Lismore last week and they were very positive and progressive about how (the Pacific Highway Upgrade) is benefiting local economies and communities," the creditor said. "But the size of this collapse is massive. It's been very destructive. People are suffering terribly because of the losses. Some people can't even afford to get here because they're busy working on a Sunday just to recover from the damage that's been done.
"In this industry it happens too often. But the culture in the industry is you don't want to be the squeaky wheel that demands payment the day after it's due. That has to change.
"Any subcontractors or employees affected by collapses under government projects should contact firstname.lastname@example.org, because we want information to help put change in place."