PICTURED ABOVE: Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, contractor Vicky Riddick, deputy Premier John Barilaro, contractor Jo Franklin and Small Business Comissioner Robyn Hobbes.
PICTURED ABOVE: Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, contractor Vicky Riddick, deputy Premier John Barilaro, contractor Jo Franklin and Small Business Comissioner Robyn Hobbes. Tim Howard

PAYDAY: Subbies get the result they've wanted for 11 months

A GROUP of 23 Pacific Highway road building contractors owed $7.3million have their money guaranteed after an 11-month battle.

And just as importantly, they have won a commitment that other subbies will not be dudded in the future.

The long-delayed payday offer came yesterday when Deputy Premier John Barilaro delivered a financial assistance package to the sub-contractors left empty-handed when Queenland construction company Ostwald Bros went broke last year.

Mr Barilaro became the hero for the sub-contractors when he delivered the package after a short meeting in Coffs Harbour Ex-Services Club.

The details of the package have not been finalised but the sub-contractors have been assured it will pay them in full for the $7.3million they have been owed since August last year, and longer in some cases.

The subbies battled for their money under the Wave 5 Contractors banner and said the win had come at a tremendous personal cost for the people in those businesses.

"To have the complete support of the families that have struggled over the past 11 months really put faith in what we were doing," said Wave 5 Contractors spokeswoman Jo Franklin.

"What I am looking forward to is the protections that come in the future - thank you to (Small Business Commissioner) Robyn Hobbes and John Barilaro - so no-one else has to go into the fire like we did."

Ms Franklin said the prevailing feeling among the contractors was disbelief that they might not get paid for work they had honestly done.

"You turn up every day with your lunch box and your smiles just to do the work and to get it done," Ms Franklin said.

"You feel secure in doing that, you feel like you're an asset in that respect on a government job.

"So I guess that wound was the biggest wound and to put our necks on the line and say we are worth more than that."

Ms Franklin said while the payment would help, it could not compensate the contractors for the 11 months where businesses have struggled or failed and relationships have been battered.

"It is really important to know it wasn't only about the money," Ms Franklin said.

"It was about recovering people's pride and honour and dignity and giving them a voice."

The Deputy Premier said he was just one cog in a machine that worked to get the money for the sub-contractors.

"(Clarence MP) Chris Gulaptis got me into a meeting at Grafton," he said.

"It was that day, when I sat in a small room, eye to eye with the subbies that I understood their plight and gained a greater insight into some of their issues and I wanted to find a way forward."

Mr Barilaro said the 11-month delay in finding the money for the sub-contractors was disappointing, but predictable.

"When things get into the hands of liquidators and administrators, it complicates everything," he said. "You can make a payment to someone and it gets clawed back by an administrator.

"Because I am the Minister for Small Business I have the ability and because we have met that criteria I can make an ex-gratia payment today in a financial package that deals with the issue."

Mr Barilaro said the work of Small Business Commissioner Robyn Hobbes had been crucial, but it had taken time.

"I've been in these positions where I have sat in creditors' meetings for years and got nothing," he said. "So in real terms 11 months and getting the right result at the end is a good outcome."

Mr Barilaro defended his Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey, who, the sub-contractors said, stonewalled their attempts to get paid.

"The Roads Minister brought in Robyn Hobbes - so that shows the commitment the RMS had to resolve it," he said.

Ms Hobbes said there were three key areas where her investigations would make a difference in the future.

"The inquiry found a need to improve contract management, improve project management and improve security of payment," Ms Hobbes said.

"We can't have these people going through what they did to give us the lesson on what needed to be done and have them do it for nothing."

Ms Hobbes described the treatment of the Wave 5 sub contractors as unconscionable.

"They had to go to elderly parents to get them to mortgage homes, marriages failed, businesses failed," she said.

"Nobody should have to do that because a bigger company wants to improve its cash flow.

"It's not going to happen any more. They're going to be called to account."