'Kicked when you're down': Contractors say NT Government let them down over owed wages
Lachlan White has lived in the Northern Territory for 20 years and for the past 10 he’s been building his small business, Northern Stone Solutions, from the ground up.
- Claims have been made that Queensland-based building company Pivotal Building Services owes more than $1 million to Territory businesses
- The Territory’s independent regulator is considering referring the matter to Northern Territory Police
- Darwin contractors have voiced their anger that the government hasn’t done more to prevent interstate contractors winning lucrative tenders
This year the young director was delighted to have won his first NT Government contract, to build rock walls and trimmings at the Administrator’s House — one of Darwin’s most historic government buildings.
He was employed as a sub-contractor for Queensland-based Pivotal Building Services, but he’s been waiting four months since August to be paid the $12,000 he’s owed for his work.
Mr White is just one of 95 business owners who are yet to be paid a collective total of $1,243,632 by Pivotal Building Services.
“I am here for the long haul, but when you’ve got things like this happening and the Government washing its hands of it, basically, it is disheartening coming into Christmas,” he said.
Pivotal was the winner of multiple NT Government contracts, including for works on Royal Darwin Hospital, Nightcliff, and Parap Primary Schools.
It was also accredited by independent NT regulator Contractor Accreditation Ltd (CAL), and signed statutory declarations to ensure it was paying its contractors like Mr White on time and in full.
“From my conversations with DIPL [The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics] Pivotal have been signing their statutory declarations, and that’s all the Government rely on [to prove that we have been paid],” Mr White said.
“My issue is, what if he just lies and signs it, what are your repercussions there?”
The ABC has been told that the man who was running the show at Pivotal — Stuart Crompton — vanished from Darwin on November 30 this year.
It is understood that at that time Mr Crompton had been paid by the NT Government for his work.
And so far, there has been no indication that Mr Crompton is under any criminal investigation.
It was also around this time that Pivotal Building Services went into liquidation.
While many believed Mr Crompton was Pivotal’s company director, documents reveal that one of Mr Crompton’s relatives was in fact the listed director and that he was the general manager.
Mr Crompton is the former head of Stuart Crompton Projects, which went under owing $2 million to 268 creditors in 2010.
He has also previously owed over $200,000 to the Queensland Building Authority for unfinished works to a house on the Gold Coast.
‘How much time do you need to stop a business from thriving?’
Toby Birch is the Director of Definitive Decorating in Darwin and had worked with Stuart Crompton for five years — but now his calls to him go unanswered.
Mr Birch had worked with Mr Crompton on many jobs but said only recently did Pivotal Services begin winning Government tenders.
Pivotal owes him $40,000 for works on the Royal Darwin Hospital.
“I just hope something changes for the future so another small business doesn’t get into a position we are in… from a company that was thriving to one that is now struggling and trying to find wages,” Mr Birch said.
Definitive Decorating and Pivotal Building Solutions have both been accredited by CAL.
“CAL’s reply to me was really in a nutshell that they were sorry they weren’t able to do something sooner,” Mr Birch said.
“This was going on since June — how much time do you need to stop a business from trading?”
Mr Birch said getting accredited by CAL was a long process and was the only way a small business could have a shot at winning lucrative government contracts.
“There was a lot more they could have done and I think being part of the CAL accreditation program warrants being more protected,” he said.
“The NT Government and CAL are big, lawful figures that control a lot of work in Darwin and who does it, and none of those are protecting a small business like myself.”
A spokesperson from CAL said the company presented itself to them as profitable, solvent, and with assets.
And although CAL can’t guarantee that a contractor won’t go bad, it said it did not receive any complaints about Pivotal until September.
The CAL spokesperson said the regulator was having a hard look to see if the company misrepresented itself and, if so, it would look at referring the matter to NT Police as a fraud inquiry.
The NT Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics was contacted for comment, but has not yet responded.
‘He could have been stopped’
Darwin contractors said it added salt to their wounds when Government tenders were awarded to out-of-towners who wouldn’t be “spat on in the street” if they were dishonest with their workers.
And when local workers toiled away day-in, day-out to develop, build, and repair buildings only to see the Government spend $50 million on incentives to attract outside people to the NT, they were “pissed off”, they said.
“After the last couple of years we’ve had, trying to keep our head above water and you get kicked when you’re down,” said Mr White.
“The Government have got to help small business.”
Blue-collar workers want to see a scheme which is useful to them, stimulates the economy and rewards residents who are already here.
Mr White said he and at least two other contractors raised that alarm about Mr Crompton and Pivotal early, but he’s disappointed that CAL and DIPL did not do more to protect local sub-contractors.
“Six months ago this guy and this company could have been stopped,” he said.
“Nightcliff Primary and Parap Primary could have been given to another company and they would have done the job and paid their subbies.
“Instead, the Government is now left with two schools unfinished and more money to fork out … money that they don’t have.”