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Right now, Government is discussing the General Scheme of the Employment Permits (Consolidation and Amendment) Bill in the House of the Oireachtas. This new bill will amend current legislation regulating employment permits for people coming to Ireland to work.

Our team at MRCI met with the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and other members of government to ensure these 3 key points are in the bill:

  • The bill must give equal rights and parity to all employment permit holders – the same as the Critical Skills Permits;
  • While we disagree with the concept of seasonal (temporary) work permits, if the government pursues this approach, it needs to provide measures that allow people to easily transition into longer-term status and other work;
  • All workers, including those who are undocumented, must have access to the Workplace Relations bodies, and not just to the civil courts.

The aim of this bill is to make the employment permit system more responsive and flexible to the needs of the labour market, which is not a bad thing per-se. But flexibility with limited rights is dangerous.

For the past 20 years, MRCI has seen first-hand how limiting rights puts workers in more vulnerable situations, at the mercy of exploitative employers, pushing people into irregularity, and limiting career progression, family formation and family reunion.

The current Work Permit system pits people against each other: it treats an IT developer as being better and more deserving of rights than a meat factory worker. This is not right.

Throughout the pandemic, essential workers have been picking, packing and putting food on our tables and many have cared for our loved ones. But this bill still reflects a hierarchy of rights and multi-tiered system which penalises essential workers across agri-food, fisheries, childcare and homecare, catering and security.

As it stands, this bill is penalising workers by limiting their mobility and their rights by introducing more temporary permits.

Employers and decision makers who are against labour market mobility (i.e. the right to change employment) are only concerned with protecting employers’ interests. They claim this right will allow workers to leave the job soon after arrival, and posts will remain vacant, with employers unable to recover the costs associated with employment permits applications.

Yet, our experience shows that when people are treated fairly, workers will stay in work. This means being paid well, having good working conditions, including sick pay, feeling respected and being able to progress in their workplaces.

All evidence points to the fact that people who come on work permits are not here temporarily, as the system supposes. People settle, put down roots and stay.

What we see every day at MRCI is that migrant workers find it hard to access family rights, to progress in the labour market, and to access legal redress if they fall into irregularity. None of this will change under this new bill.

We are also concerned that this bill gives the Minister enhanced discretion and powers through the use of regulation. This discretion is not balanced by enhanced and strengthened protections and rights for workers especially in light of proposals to increase the use of temporary permits.

Most of all, the needs of industry and employers must not be put above the rights and protections of workers.

What MRCI is calling for:

  1. This bill needs to give parity to all workers on employment permits by giving gradual mobility to all general employment permit holders, similar to that already in place for Critical Skills Permit holders; full labour market mobility after 2 years, immediate rights to family reunion and the right to work for spouses and partners. This will simplify and streamline the Employment Permits system and stop the need for a range of schemes, regulations and administrative processes;
  2. We are very concerned about the proposed introduction of new short term and temporary permits. It is well documented that when temporary migration systems do not offer safeguards, employers may take advantage of the power imbalance that this creates and workers may be forced into irregularity. If this bill pursues this approach it needs to provide measures that allow people who are recruited temporarily, such as seasonal workers, to easily transition into longer-term status and other work;
  3. MRCI believes that all work is work, and that undocumented migrant workers perform work just like any other worker and, as such, should be protected by the same rights and regulations as other workers. Consequently, they should have access to the Workplace Relations bodies, which is the appropriate body to deal with labour disputes, and not the civil courts.