Migrant carers in Ireland: ‘We are not just carers, we take care of lives’

Estimated 20,000-26,000 undocumented migrants living and working in the State

Migrant care workers have called for the State to acknowledge their role in looking after Ireland’s elderly and most vulnerable.

The workers say regulation of the sector is urgently needed to avoid exploitation and poor treatment.

Fadielah Moses, a care worker from South Africa, who moved to Ireland in 2013, warns that many undocumented migrants are being exploited by private homecare agencies who contract people to work long night shifts for below minimum wage.

Speaking at the Global Forum for Human Resources in Health at the RDS in Dublin, Ms Moses underlined the important work care workers carry out in private Irish homes.


“We are not just carers, we take care of lives,” says Ms Moses. “We didn’t study seven years to become a doctor, but we dress, we feed, we give medication, we give companionship, we hold their hand and reassure them that everything is OK, they don’t have to be scared.”

Working with elderly or vulnerable people in their homes gives these people the chance to continue their lives in a “much safer and more secure” environment, said Ms Moses. “I love the fact that home care allows you to have that one-on-one interaction with this person. You become part of that home. You go in and they are happy to see you.”

Ms Moses says the long hours undertaken by care workers should merit a salary rise after a period of time but that many employers take their work for granted. “It’s the right of us as homecare workers to be noticed and to see that our work is vital. We deserve to get an increase to live a decent life. This isn’t about our dreams; it’s just our needs of living in a proper house and being able to buy food.”

Ann, who wished not to provide her surname, who moved to Ireland from the Philippines in 2002, says the Government must introduce a system of regularising undocumented migrants to protect the jobs of all care workers.

Ann became undocumented for a year and a half after her initial Irish visa expired. While she was undocumented, she struggled to find full-time work and lived in constant fear of deportation. However, even after she secured a new visa, it was difficult to find decently-paid work.

“Employers can pay undocumented people a lower salary in cash with no hassle,” says Ann, who is now an Irish citizen. “When you interview for a job, if you ask about pay they say ‘why do you always ask about money’.”

Without regulation of care work, Ann says employers tend to stray from their original employment agreement and request that carers do more work for no extra pay.

“The client will sometimes ask for favours like, ‘will you cook the lunch?’, but once you do that favour once you’re expected to do it every time. The longer you stay, the more they rely on you and don’t follow the original agreement.”

There are an estimated 20,000-26,000 undocumented migrants – including children and families – living and working in the State, according to the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland.

Nearly half of these have lived in Ireland for over eight years, with 21 per cent living in Ireland more than a decade. Nearly a third work in care and domestic work.

With the lack of regulation in the home-care sector, it’s impossible to say how many migrant women and men are looking after young, elderly and disabled people across the country.

The My Fair Home campaign, launched by MRCI in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation earlier this year to improve home care standards, is calling for the Government to introduce employment permits for migrant carers, standardised contracts, regular health and safety checks, compulsory training and compliance with equality and anti-discrimination laws.

“This network of carers, they’re coming together as experts in homecare who really care about standards,” says Helen Lowry from the MRCI. “And within that discussion lets talk about pay and working conditions for immigrant workers. It’s not one without the other.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast