Conference told of difficulties confronting migrant workers

 

Migrant workers recounted the difficulties they have encountered in the Irish workplace and in society at a conference in Dublin yesterday.

A trained teacher from Zimbabwe, who is working in a nursing home in Dún Laoghaire, said that migrant workers were present in large numbers in the private sector, but not in the Government. Ms Rebecca Gonyora said that she tried to obtain work as a teacher, but her inability to speak Irish prevented her from doing so. This was despite being told that she could take up a post and study Irish while she was teaching.

"There is no way that you can penetrate the Government," she said. "The Government has not experienced working with migrant workers . . . they can write policies, but they can't say what's happening on the ground."

She also described the fear and intimidation she has felt in dealing with immigration officials. "The first thing they ask for is your passport, and you are thinking: 'Hey, if you take my passport, are you going to send me home?' So there is fear, because you do not know your rights."

Ms Hilkka Becker, a German-born legal consultant who works with immigrant workers, said that she was one of the privileged EU workers, but even they faced problems.

She cited lack of information on social rights and the fact that people for whom English is a second language are downgraded.

Ms Becker said that she holds a German law practising certificate which entitles her to practice as a lawyer in Ireland under an EU directive. However, she had been told by successive insurance companies that she could not be insured as a practising lawyer in Ireland without an Irish practising certificate.

"The rights that I have under an EU directive are practically unenforceable for me at an out-of-court level and I may have to go to court to enforce rights that I think I might have," she said.