Press Release: 2 December 2008
Responding to RTE’s Prime Time Investigates programme highlighting the exploitation of migrant workers, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), called for the government to make protection of workers a priority and fast track enactment of the Employment Law Compliance Bill.
The main provisions of this Bill were negotiated and agreed in June 2006 and are still awaiting implementation. The organisations recommended key changes to ensure the effectiveness of the new legislation, including penalties to discourage employers who break the law from re-offending.
According to Siobhán O’Donoghue, ‘It is inconceivable that after scandals like Gamma we still do not have penalties for employers who exploit their employees. The current situation is that employers have all the power – those who break the law merely have to pay what they already owe, and this is not an effective deterrent.”
In the experience of MRCI, the exploitation of migrant workers in Ireland, particularly those in low-pay, poorly-regulated sectors, is widespread.* The sectors include domestic work, cleaning, restaurants and hotels. Exploitation can range from discriminatory practices in pay and conditions, to situations of forced labour. Migrant workers are more susceptible to exploitation due to a number of factors, including the limited mobility within the work permit system, and the risk of losing their job and legal status if they complain.
Congress General Secretary, David Begg said, “Exploitation and abuse is not confined to certain sectors of the labour force, it is present wherever there is poor regulation, low enforcement and meaningless penalties. Not only must the Employment Compliance Bill be fast-tracked, but people must be allowed to enjoy the protection that unions can afford them – and that means addressing trade unions’ right to negotiate collectively.”
Notes for Editors:
* In 2007 the MRCI provided advocacy and support to over 6,000 migrant workers, and has established three action groups to campaign for better standards in the following employment sectors: agriculture, domestic work and restaurants. Approximately 25% of workers report some form of workplace rights violation. In the period March 2006 to March 2008, MRCI assisted exploited migrant workers to receive settlements and awards of more than €1 million for back wages and other violations of their employment rights. Of these cases:
- Half were employed in agriculture, with a further third working in restaurants. Significant numbers were working in the domestic and cleaning sectors.
- 28% of the workers were Latvian, 21% Lithuanian and 10% Ukrainian. Other sizeable nationalities included Chinese, Thai and Pakistani.
- 58% were women and 42% men.
v For a copy of MRCI’s Key Recommendations on the Employment Law Compliance Bill, contact email@example.com
v The Irish Congress of Trade Unions negotiated commitments in Towards 2016 and in the recent Review and Transitional Agreement for improved laws to combat exploitation of all workers. Central to these are the Employment Law Compliance Bill, which underpins the establishment of NERA.
Also of critical importance is the Employment Agency Regulation Bill which will protect the rights of Agency workers and identify in law exactly who their employer is.
The anti-victimisation legislation promised to Congress in the recent agreement will properly protect workers who want to join unions and fight for proper terms and conditions of employment.