Migrant workers earning substantially less than Irish counterparts, ESRI finds

Lack of English language proficiency and difficulties having qualifications recognised likely factors in limiting opportunities

Migrant workers in Ireland earned an average of 22 per cent less per hour than their Irish counterparts between 2011 and 2018, according to new research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

While the overall gap was reducing over that time, there are substantial variations in the fortunes of the different communities working in Ireland with those from eastern Europe faring least well, the report finds.

Wages and Working Conditions of non-Irish Nationals in Ireland by James Laurence, Elish Kelly Frances McGinnity and Sarah Curristan, which is published on Thursday, finds that those who have come to Ireland to work from the UK were paid more on average during the reviewed period than their Irish counterparts – 6 per cent overall, a figure that reduced 2 per cent when account was taken of socio-economic and other factors. Workers from Africa along with Central and South America as well as eastern Europe fared considerably worse.

Non-Irish women experience “a double earnings penalty”, according to the authors, “for being female and for being migrants”. They earned an average of 11 per cent less than non-Irish men, it was found, and 30 per cent less than Irish men.


Overall, migrants were found to be less likely to be working in supervisory roles than Irish workers (27 per cent versus 33 per cent) and more likely to have been doing shift work (28 per cent compared to 16 per cent).

The research, which was based on data compiled by the Revenue Commissioners and the Central Statistics Office’s labour force surveys, found that those who had come to Ireland from Asia, western EU countries, North America and Australia tended to be paid fractionally less than their Irish counterparts (between 3 per cent and 7 per cent) in comparable circumstances.

However, workers from these areas and from the UK tended to have “more advantageous working conditions across several job quality indicators compared to their Irish counterparts”, according to the report.

At the other end of the scale, workers from eastern Europe earned 40 per cent less than their Irish counterparts, although this figure almost halved to 21 per cent when adjustments were made to compare like with like.

Though the data on which the report is based does not provide a firm basis for explaining the scale of the differences found, the authors suggest that English language proficiency is likely to be a big factor along with difficulties in having qualifications gained overseas recognised in Ireland.

Different communities also gravitate towards different sectors of employment with one-third of Asian people (32 per cent), for instance, found to have been working in health or related areas.

“In some respects, it’s the kind of the process that goes on and slowly but surely integration leads to improved outcomes,” says Dr James Laurence, a senior research officer at the ESRI. “But some groups are clearly doing better than others and while these kinds of things are maybe part of the migrants’ story, they are not necessarily things that can’t be changed.

“English language classes can improve the outcomes of these groups. Making it easier to transfer qualifications across borders may also help and then on top of that, there is still the potential that part of the gap at least is down to something like discrimination.”

A study of the particular periods 2011-13 and 2016-18 suggests progress is being made in terms of the overall pay gap with the global figure reducing from 25.5 per cent to 18.7 per cent. However, this may in part be attributable to an increasingly favourable labour market as Ireland put its economic crash behind, something that could be reversed should there be another recession.

“It’s hard to say how permanent these gains have been,” says Dr Laurence. “But now you have much more established migrant communities and so new arrivals can access information, learn how the system works and get information about jobs, And so potentially, if there was another recession, the impact wouldn’t be so bad.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times