A new 45,000-strong construction union called Connect has pledged to do whatever it takes to eliminate what it described as the "scourge" of bogus self-employment in the building industry.

Connect is the result of a merger between the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, which has 37,000 members, and the Union of Construction Allied and Trades and Technicians, which has around 8,000.

Speaking at the launch of the new union, General Secretary Paddy Kavanagh, who previously led the TEEU, said they would use that the extra clout or muscle to tackle bogus self-employment "full on".

He cited estimates that the practice is costing around €80 million a year in unpaid PRSI, and up to €300 million in other tax foregone, adding that a lot of hospital beds and other public services could be funded from that money.

He noted that Connect now represents 21 out of 25 crafts on a building site, and can now go onto a site in the knowledge that they represent 90% of the crafts there.

Asked about the possibility of industrial disputes on building sites, Mr Kavanagh said Connect would use every tool at its disposal to ensure their members were properly employed directly, and not forced into bogus self-employment.

He noted that in many cases, the employer - not the employee - can register the worker as self-employed.

He said if a person wanted to go self-employed, they should take that step themselves.

Mr Kavanagh also urged the Government to boost apprenticeships, at a time when there is a shortage of trained craft workers coming through the system.

He said it was no secret that the number of apprenticeships had fallen back considerably during the recession, but there was now a skills shortage, with employers holding recruitment fairs in Canada and Australia in a bid to woo emigrants to return to Ireland.

He called on the Government to incentivise employers to take on apprentices, reduce the current fees of up to €1,400 for apprentices during their block periods of education, to improve post-apprenticeship training and to raise awareness of apprenticeships through schools.