Government to give 'full consideration' to High Court judgment
REACTION:THE GOVERNMENT has said it will give “full consideration” to a High Court judgment that found employment legislation could not be invoked to protect exploited migrants working here without permits.
Groups representing migrant workers have said the lacuna in the law has left undocumented workers vulnerable to exploitation.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan yesterday found that under the Employment Permits Act 2003, a non-Irish national employee who works without a permit automatically commits an offence, and his contract of employment is void.
The Labour Court cannot make awards if a contract is void.
The judge said he would refer the matter to the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton as a matter of urgency.
In a brief statement last night, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said the ruling in the case of Pakistani migrant Mohammad Younis was important and would require full consideration on the part of the Government.
“On receipt of the judgment from the courts this process will commence immediately,” a spokeswoman said.
Gráinne O’Toole of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland said a fundamental problem with the Employment Permits Act had been uncovered.
“This is devastating, not only for Mr Younis, but for all undocumented migrants who are now left without protection against exploitation under Irish labour law. It is a sad day for Ireland when a man who suffered extreme exploitation is denied justice while his exploiter walks free.”
Ms O’Toole said for many years Mr Younis had been subjected to “modern-day slavery”.
“He was paid 55 cent per hour. He worked extremely long hours with no day off. The employer failed to renew Mohammad’s work permit, which rendered him undocumented.”
Ms O’Toole said the law as it was now interpreted gave a “green light to exploitative employers”.
“Other countries have protections in place where undocumented workers who have had their employment rights violated can seek legal redress.”
She said the Government must act immediately to guarantee that undocumented workers were protected under employment law.
Solicitor James McGuill, acting for Mr Younis, said he would examine all avenues, including a challenge to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
Speaking outside the court, Mr Younis said he had done nothing wrong and was instead being further punished by the decision of the court.
Siptu called on the Government to introduce emergency legislation to amend the Act. The general president of the union, Jack O’Connor, said he was “shocked and appalled” by the ruling.
“The outcome of this case, which involved gross exploitation, is a licence for further exploitation by unscrupulous employers on a scale not seen in Ireland since the 17th century,” he said.
He welcomed Mr Justice Hogan’s decision to refer the case to Mr Bruton.
Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin, who is vice-chairman of the Oireachtas committee on social protection, said a stand-alone offence banning forced labour was now required.
“I intend to bring such amended legislation to the floor of the Dáil at the earliest opportunity in the coming weeks and to again raise the matter with the Minister for Justice,” he said.
“It is a disgrace that the employer in this case has succeeded in walking away with this decision, and it is now the responsibility of the political system to respond.”