MBA North says its members being forced to condone unethical contractual practices

The Master Builders Association (MBA) North has issued a practice note for its members aimed at helping them fight back against what it calls unethical contractual practices that have become prevalent in the industry.

MBA North executive director Mohau Mphomela says the association has noted with concern that a growing number of its members are finding themselves in trouble, owing to unethical contractual practices forced on them by some professionals and employers.

“When you start to see contractors and subcontractors who have been in business for decades having to go into business rescue, then it’s clear there is something wrong,” he says.

“We convened a meeting with some of our leading members – contractors and subcontractors – to hear from them what challenges they were facing when it comes to contracts. The practice note is the fruit of that meeting.”

The note provides guidance about best practices when it comes to contracting for both contractors and subcontractors.

Brad Boertje, consultant and alternative dispute resolution practitioner for the MBA North, says that standard industry contracts, such as Joint Building Contracts Committee (JBCC) contracts, are the gold standard and should be followed to the letter.

These standard contracts should ideally not be amended, but, if amendments are made, they need to be agreed to by both parties and not be one-directionally imposed by the developer or principal agent.

It is also vital that contractors and subcontractors take the time to populate the contract with all the relevant data. If a dispute arises later, an incomplete contract could prejudice the contractor, says Boertje.

The contract should be the full and complete record of all parties’ obligations to one another, he adds.

Contractors should not accede to requests to take on out-of-scope work on the promise that they will be “looked after” at a later stage – only to find that the client will not honour that payment.

The JBCC contracts are necessary because the common law does not cater for issues specific to the construction industry, says Boertje.

Another challenge is the issuing of incorrect payment certificates, or the non-issue of payment certificates.

Boertje cautions that “negative” payment certificates have become common, but they often do not reflect an accurate certification of the works.

“Contractors often find themselves having to litigate to get their money, which greatly impacts their cash flow.”

Construction or performance guarantees are yet another areas where contractors are experiencing issues.

Boertje points out that contractors have the right to choose the kind of security they wish to offer.

He advises that construction guarantees are preferred to retentions. In the latter case, if the main contractor runs into business difficulties, the subcontractor may find that his or her retention is at major risk of being released.

“Because business conditions are so tough, contractors and subcontractors often find themselves being forced to condone unethical contractual practices, and then find themselves in trouble,” notes Mphomela.

“Yet they find it hard to fight back for fear of being precluded from future tenders.

“As an association, the time has come to say enough is enough. We must present a united front to demand adherence to ethical practices – to the benefit of all stakeholders.”


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