The chairman of the national Subcontractors Alliance, Les Williams, was planning his retirement when the Walton Construction company collapsed owing millions in late 2013.
Rather than wait in the queue to get a portion of the $696,000 his WK Civil company was owed, he has taken up the fight on behalf of all subcontractors, writes Bruce Macdonald.
Longreach lad Les Williams can look back proudly on his career as a subcontractor as he transitions into retirement at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
He started his working life armed with a civil engineering diploma from the Queensland Institute of Technology in Brisbane and took jobs in a number of construction companies before forming his own company, WK Civil, on the Sunshine Coast in 1987.
He and wife Gail raised four children, John 42, a company manager, Glen 40, a developer, Kate 24, a physiotherapist currently plying her skills in London and Jayden, 22, who is studying for an environmental engineering degree.
Now 66, Les Williams should be enjoying his retirement, but like so many ‘subbies’, large and small, he came face-to-face with the darker side of the industry.
He won a contract with Walton Construction to undertake an earthworks, drainage and road development project for a new Coles supermarket in Nambour but the company went into liquidation in October 2013 owing millions.
WK Civil was owed $696,000.
He was one of 600 contractors in Queensland owed $30 million and nationally 1350 contractors were owed $70 million.
What was to be a good payday as he neared retirement turned into a financial disaster.
Fortunately WK Civil was able to survive the setback but many businesses didn’t.
“I saw the devastation it (the Walton collapse) caused in the construction industry and among small businesses,” Mr Williams said.
Rather than take his chances and ‘join the queue’ in the hope of getting something back, Mr Williams decided to take Walton on and began delving into what legal options were available.
He became well versed with the Queensland and Commonwealth laws related to contract charges and insolvency and was able to claw back 25 per cent of his loss.
But, he points out, many others have seen no money for their work and the collapse is still subject to a Queensland Government inquiry.
His research, while mounting his legal challenge, revealed that there are about 90,000 subcontractors in Queensland and 450,000 across Australia, with no national body representing those people and their employees.
His plans to travel overseas with Gail have been put on the backburner as he works towards establishing an incorporated, national Subcontractors Alliance with Townsville-based Kylie McIlroy, Juanita Gibson and Graham Cohen who live on the Gold Coast.
“We are hoping the incorporation process will be completed by the end of February and we can then take the next step,” he said.
“All of us have spoken widely to subcontractors and there’s clearly a need for the alliance.”
Mr Williams is the chairman of the alliance, Ms McIlroy secretary and the others are board members.