PRESS RELEASE: 7 January 2008
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland Calling for Real Protections for Trafficked Persons
A Dublin restaurant has been ordered by a Rights Commissioner to pay compensation totalling €116,000 to a former employee, for gross breeches in employment law.
Following a Rights Commissioner hearing last December where he was represented by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), the man, a migrant worker from Pakistan, described his appalling ordeal over a five year period beginning in May 2001 working in the Dublin-based restaurant. He worked extreme hours with virtually no days off and was paid €150 per week, of which €100 was deducted by the employer for his accommodation. He claimed that the employer held his passport and threatened him with revoking his work permit, loss of his accommodation and deportation if he complained. When he eventually took the risk of making a complaint the employer dismissed him.
“It took a lot of courage for him to break free from the threats and control that the employer apparently exerted over him,” says MRCI’s director, Siobhan O’Donoghue. “Even after he made an official complaint the employer apparently coerced him into signing a document retracting his complaint.”
“This case contains all the elements of human trafficking for forced labour. This man was brought to Ireland and made to work under extremely exploitative conditions. He was controlled by the employer and threatened to the extent that he had no option but to tolerate the exploitation.”
Ms. O’Donoghue continued, “He is very fortunate that when he came to the MRCI he was still documented. This made it possible for us to help him seek justice. Unfortunately many other victims of trafficking that we come across are undocumented and that presents a major barrier. Most people are too afraid to take the risk to come forward, especially when they are undocumented. Currently there is no legal framework protecting the victims of trafficking in Ireland and the ones now proposed in the new Immigration Bill are not nearly strong or clear enough.”
The minister has decided to deal with the area of protections for trafficking victims in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. However, according to Ms O’Donoghue, the 45 days reflection period he proposes is “totally inadequate to enable a person to exit their situation, access supports and feel secure enough to participate in criminal proceedings against their traffickers.”
“We are at the very early stages in this country of understanding trafficking for forced labour. MRCI’s experience shows that it is happening inIrelandbut is not being identified.
Apart from the need to ensure better protections in the Immigration Bill, the Trafficking Bill being discussed in the Dáil tomorrow does not include a definition of this growing and complex phenomenon, which will make it extremely difficult to prosecute in this area of trafficking. It is vital that the internationally accepted definition of forced labour developed by the International Labour Organisation be used in this Bill.”
“If Minister Lenihan is serious about combating trafficking of people then he needs to acknowledge that trafficking for forced labour is a reality in this country, and offer real protections to those in these situations. Anything less is shameful.”
A definition of forced labour is contained in International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 29 and this definition was adopted “as a starting point” by the European Court of Human Rights. According to this internationally-accepted definition, forced labour is:
“all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
ILO expert guidance points out that the word “penalty” may take the form of “a loss of rights or privileges” and is not referring only to penal sanctions. The same guidance also highlights six “coercive” elements which can point to a forced labour situation:
a. Physical or sexual violence and/or threats.
b. Restriction of movement of the worker.
c. Debt bondage/bonded labour.
d. Withholding wages or refusing to pay wages.
e. Retention of passports and identity documents.
f. Threat of denunciation to authorities.
MRCI advocates that it is not sufficient to include all the elements of trafficking for labour exploitation into the national criminal legislation, without also including an appropriate definition of this complex phenomenon, to ensure that human trafficking for labour exploitation can be criminalised at the national level.
Several of the elements of this type of trafficking are not self-explanatory and require further clarification and definition in national law for them to be easily and appropriately interpreted by criminal justice agencies. Both ‘forced labour’ and ‘coercion’ need further clarification.