Large number of employment rows involve migrant workers

One-quarter of cases at Workplace Relations Commission are taken by foreign nationals

Muhammed Younis, who won a Supreme Court judgment for €90,000 against his former employer in Dublin, participating in Migrant Rights Centre Ireland protest outside the Dáil last year. File  photograph: Alan Betson

Muhammed Younis, who won a Supreme Court judgment for €90,000 against his former employer in Dublin, participating in Migrant Rights Centre Ireland protest outside the Dáil last year. File photograph: Alan Betson

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Over one-quarter of employment disputes at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) have involved cases taken by foreign nationals, new figures have revealed.

Established last October, the the WRC was intended to be a streamlined arbitration body that would perform the functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Labour Relations Commission and the Rights Commissioner Service.

Figures from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation show that 26 per cent of applicants to the new body are migrant workers, with almost one in 10 from Poland.

Initiated proceedings

Out of 5,347 cases taken between the beginning of October and the end of June, 4,700 applicants disclosed their nationality.

The majority were indigenous workers, just under 3,500 of whom have initiated WRC proceedings, and the next largest groupings by country of origin were Poles (8 per cent), British, Lithuanians and Romanians (all 2 per cent).

The latest figures from Eurostat show that 11.8 per cent of Irish residents are foreign nationals, meaning that proceedings involving migrant workers comprise an inordinately large number of employment dispute-resolution cases.

According to Aoife Murphy of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI), many migrant workers tend to be in low-paid sectors with low union density and so are particularly susceptible to exploitation.

“We get a lot of people complaining of quite straightforward breaches of employment law in that they’re not being paid extra for Sundays, they’re not being given bank holiday pay, they’re not being paid for holidays or being given time off,” she said.

Free advice

The MRCI offers free legal advice to foreign workers who feel they have been harshly dealt with, and routinely deals with cases where employees have been let go because they asked for their rights, a written contract or even back pay owed to them.

“[Employers] think they can get away with more with migrant workers than you can with native Irish workers.

“We find a lot of people coming in to ask about one specific aspect. So maybe they know they shouldn’t have been let go without notice, and then when we examine their case you find there were repeated violations of employment law that they weren’t aware of,” she said.

Russian-speaking solicitor Elizaveta Donnery deals with a lot of employment disputes. She recalls cases where eastern European and Russian clients have sustained fractures and back injuries due to negligent practices by an employer.

In order to address such abuses, the MRCI has repeatedly called for stronger penalties to be imposed on employers who commit wage theft, and for labour inspectors to be given increased powers to identify and prosecute cases of exploitation.

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