Press Centre

Exploitation of migrant workers continues be to major concern as we mark International Workers Day

PRESS RELEASE: 30 April 2008


Exploited migrant workers received settlements and awards of  €1,028,000 for back wages and other gross violations of their employment rights in complaints brought with the help of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), over a two-year period.

More than half of the 177 workers were involved in agriculture with a further third working in restaurants.  Significant numbers were also working as domestic workers in the private home and as contract cleaners.

In the period March 2006 to March 2008, 28% of the workers assisted in actions by the MRCI were Latvian, 21% Lithuanian and 10% Ukrainian.  Other sizeable nationalities included Chinese, Thai, Filipino and Pakistani.   58% were women and 42% men.

MRCI assisted workers to file approximately 300 official complaints against employers with State redress bodies including the Labour Relations Commission, the Equality Authority, the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Labour Court.  Breaches in employment rights included payment below the minimum wage, non-payment of holidays, excessive working hours and unfair dismissal.  Some wages were recovered by the Labour Inspectorate with MRCI’s assistance.

The MRCI works with migrant workers mostly in low-wage, non-unionised sectors, who are least likely to access mainstream services and supports.  The MRCI receives no government funding for its legal advocacy work.  Services are provided free of charge to migrant workers and their families.

“We are just scratching the surface of an ongoing and serious problem faced by migrant workers in low-wage sectors in Ireland,” says Siobhan O’Donoghue, MRCI’s Director.  If a small organisation such as the MRCI is able to recover such amounts, we are confident that there are many more experiencing this level of exploitation.  What is needed is the right kind of supports to assist workers in taking a stand against exploitative employers who are undermining good employment conditions for all workers.”

As a response to the high degree of exploitation, the MRCI has initiated action groups for agricultural, domestic and restaurant workers which bring workers together to speak out and work for changes and improvements in their sector.

“There is no easy solution to workplace exploitation,” says Rajat Bhatnagar, member of MRCI’s Restaurant Workers Group.  “The biggest obstacle is that many workers are extremely afraid to report employers especially if they are depending on a work permit to stay in Ireland.  With the downturn in the economy people will be even more fearful to step forward.  The Labour Inspectorate will help but not if workers are too afraid to speak out.  We know from experience that employers can find ways around inspections.”

Mr. Bhatnagar continues, “Migrant workers want fair and equal working conditions and given the right support they will come forward.  Workers need to have a place where they can feel safe and get good information and support in order to break through the fear of reporting exploitation.  It is a process that can take several weeks or months.  This is one of the things our group is doing.”