UNPAID Pacific Highway upgrade sub-contractors claim the Roads Minister was "passing the buck" over outstanding wages to workers after a primary contractor entered voluntary administration.
Many of the 200 workers at the Tyndale to Glenugie section of the Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade were left in the lurch after Ostwald Pty Ltd abandoned the project more than two months ago.
Minister Melinda Pavey was fronted with a question about the on-going pay dispute and the security of works on future projects at an infrastructure forum held in Lismore last week.
One subbie, who doesn't want to be named, said Melinda Pavey's comments about subbies ensuring "due-diligence" before they agreed to projects was "bulls**t".
Mrs Pavey told journalists at the forum that large-scale projects like the Pacific Highway upgrade were rife with challenges that may lead to "a weak link in the chain".
"We can't control all aspects of how a private company may operate," Mrs Pavey said.
"We have appropriate safeguards but sometimes there may be decisions made at a management level within a private company that aren't the right decisions that have an impact.
"But there is no perfect system, it takes due diligence from us all."
But email correspondence between subbies, lead contractor Seymour Whyte and Ostwald leaked to The Northern Star make it clear sub-contractors made their payment woes known months prior to the ailing Darling Downs-based company ceased works at the Tyndale section on August 26.
Seymour Whyte project manager, Brent Wadham, as well as Page MP Kevin Hogan's office, were emailed on July 27 and 28 respectively about months of payment issues.
On August 15, a global email sent to Ostwald's sub-contractors by the company's commercial manager Kerrie Pridmore claimed management were "trying to establish prompt payment" after indicating sub-contractors had inundated management with complaints.
That email came just three days after Ostwald was officially awarded the major contract with Seymour Whyte to finish the Tyndale to Glenugie section.
Meanwhile, Mrs Pavey said some workers had been employed on other sections of the highway to support workers. She admitted there were lessons to learn from the pay debacle between Ostwald and its sub-contractors.
"Looking at that statutory declaration is part of that and we will be looking at how that's worked and how it maybe able to be better enforced," she said.
But one unpaid sub-contractor said the declarations weren't "worth the paper they're written on" and called for more stringent measures to prevent the ordeal from happening again.
"Something needs to be done to safeguard our money," the subbie said.
"We've just built a road for them for nothing."