'Policy change' required to alter permits for migrants

 

ALTERING THE permit system to allow migrant workers to change employer to protect them against exploitation would require a fundamental policy change, Minister for Labour Affairs Dara Calleary has said.

Mr Calleary told the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation yesterday that “a core and crucial element” of the current permit system is that it is “vacancy-driven”.

Permits are only issued on the basis that a vacancy cannot be filled from within the European Economic Area.

This means that employers have to carry out a labour needs test, in addition to which the employer or potential employee must pay between €500 and €1,500 in an application fee.

Mr Calleary said it would be unfair on employers which have identified a labour market shortage to allow a “third country national to enter . . . the Irish labour market on that basis and then take up employment with a different employer where no identifiable labour market shortage has been proven”.

The Minister added that current controls allowed the system to trace those who employ permit holders as opposed to a notification system which could result in greater numbers of undocumented employees.

Mr Calleary said that, so far this year, 83 applications for new permits, arising out of allegations of mistreatment of permit holders by their employers, were received by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.

A total of 67 of these were granted, five refused and 11 were pending a decision.

However, in those cases, an application fee of between €500 and €1,500 still applied to the employee for a new permit depending on its duration.

The chairman of the committee, Labour TD Willie Penrose, suggested that the issue of the cost involved in switching employers arising from an exploitative situation should be examined.

“You can’t get blood out of a turnip. If you don’t have money how do you enter the process of trying to change your employer.

“If you have nothing and you’re in exploitative employment and you’re getting paid nothing?” he asked.

Mr Penrose said that there had been misrepresentations over the numbers of migrant workers applying for work permits in the Republic and that the numbers had fallen dramatically in recent years.

Mr Penrose said that a change to the permit system would not result in a net increase in the number of permit holders as they would be swopping one job for another.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil TD Cyprian Brady said the low level of allegations of mistreatment by employees pointed towards “a reluctance on behalf of employees to come forward”.