The restaurant sector in Ireland has undergone a period of tremendous growth over the last ten years. Eating out regularly has become the norm. The variety and sheer number of restaurants is plainly clear to anyone living in large cities to small towns and villages across Ireland. The restaurant industry is a significant source of jobs and business in the Irish economy. It is estimated that over €6 billion annually is spent on eating out.
Supporting this growth has required thousands of workers to cook, prepare, serve, clean and keep restaurants open for business. The entire hospitality industry, hotels and restaurants, now employs approximately 130,000 workers. 35% of the workforce is now made up of migrant workers, the highest, by far, of any major industry in Ireland.
Wages, however, are the lowest of any employment sector in Ireland. The restaurant industry is almost entirely non-unionised. Workplace rights violations and exploitation of restaurant workers, especially migrant workers, is commonplace. Cases highlighted even recently demonstrate just how severe things can become including: workers being paid rates of €2 per hour, labouring in excess of 75-hour weeks, working without any overtime provisions or rest breaks, suffering threats of deportation or harm to their families in their home country if they complain. Recently, after inspecting over 850 catering businesses, the National Employment Rights Authority found that 76% were in breach of employment legislation which included the failure to pay minimum wage, overtime, Sunday premium, public holidays, and annual leave.
Migrant workers employed as restaurant workers have been the largest group reporting workplace exploitation to the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). In early 2007, the MRCI initiated the Restaurant Workers Action Group to begin to bring migrant workers employed in restaurants together to work for change. In order to establish a more comprehensive picture of working conditions and experiences of workers, the Restaurant Workers Action Group decided to design and undertake an extensive worker survey.
The information summarised in the following study is based on the results of 115 one-hour surveys of migrant workers employed in restaurants in Ireland. The results of the study indicate that among those surveyed:
• 53% earned less than the minimum hourly wage
• 45% worked 9 or more hours per day
• 44% did not get rest breaks
• 85% did not receive extra pay for Sunday work
• 85% did not receive overtime pay
• 48% did not receive bank holiday pay
• 34% did not receive their annual leave entitlements
• 51% did not receive a pay slip
• 84% did not receive a contract or terms of employment
• 89% stated that their employment rights are not displayed at work
• 15% reported an injury at work