Ruling 'leaves migrants unprotected'

Fri, Aug 31, 2012, 01:00

A ruling by the High Court today has left all undocumented migrant workers in Ireland without protection from exploitation under labour laws, a migrant rights body has said.

Judge Gerard Hogan today quashed an award of €92,000 to Pakistani chef Mohammad Younis, who worked for his cousin at a Dublin restaurant for seven days a week for pocket money with no holidays.

Mr Younis said he had done nothing wrong and was instead being further punished by the decision of the court.

Grainne O’Toole of the 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 that 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 Hogan 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.

General president of Siptu, 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 seventeenth century,” he said.

He welcomed Mr Justice Hogan’s decision to refer what he had found to be unintended consequences in the Employment Permits Act, 2003, to the Ceann Comhairle of the Dail and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton as a matter of urgency.

Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin, who is vice chair of the Oireachtas committee on social protection said the case showed the urgent need for amending legislation to be introduced to ensure that the legal loophole was closed. A stand-alone offence banning forced labour was now required, he said.

“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.

“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,” he said.

He welcomed the actions of the judge in forwarding his decision to the Oireachtas.

Judge Hogan said today his ruling “gave him little satisfaction”.

But he held that the Labour Court could not lawfully have awarded the money, most of it was for back pay, for breach of rights to chef Mohammad Younis in respect of an employment contract that was substantively illegal.