Portuguese construction workers sue over Tipperary ‘work camp’

Consultant engineer says employees' accommodation was worse than prison

The cases are proceeding uncontested. Photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters

The cases are proceeding uncontested. Photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters

 

A Portuguese construction worker has told the High Court he and his colleagues lived in “terrible conditions” at a “work camp” in Co Tipperary provided by his former employers when they were building a section of the N7 motorway.

Armando Agostinho Alves da Silva is among 20 workers who allege they were underpaid while working for three Portuguese companies trading as the RAC Eire Partnership and contracted to construct the section of motorway between Limerick and Nenagh in 2007 and 2008.

In evidence on Thursday, Mr Da Silva said they would start work at 7am and might not finish until 10pm or 11pm.

He told Ms Justice Carmel Stewart he and up to 90 other Portuguese workers lived in a prefab, with six to eight people per room. The facility was in a rural townland outside Nenagh, lacked basic facilities and was cramped.

He said the water at the accommodation was undrinkable and the showers didn’t work all the time.

“It was horrible,” Mr Da Silva told his counsel, David McGrath SC. He said there was a smell from waste water from the building and it took a long time for bags of rubbish from the facility to be collected.

Meals were only provided by his employer on days the men worked, he said. On the days they were not working, such as Sundays, they had to fend for themselves, but there were no cooking facilities in the building.

“If I had known it would be like this, I would never have come to Ireland.”

New terms

After a new company took over from his employer, he moved into a house in the locality, got better money and worked shorter hours.

The cases by the workers, represented by solicitor Tom O’Regan, are the latest of a number of similar actions to come before the High Court. In a judgment in 2016, Mr Justice David Keane awarded 27 others workers a total €1.5 million.

The proceedings are against Portuguese-based Rosas Construtores SA, Constructocoes Gabriel AS Couto SA and Empresa Deconstrucoes Amandio Carvalho SA, all trading under the title RAC Contractors or RAC Eire Partnership.

On Thursday the court also heard evidence from consultant engineer Ronald Greene, who said the men’s accommodation was “utterly substandard in every respect” and “prison facilities were of a superior standard”.

He said the Nenagh facility, which has since been taken down, raised serious health and safety issues and lacked planning permission.

The workers are claiming damages for alleged breach of contract. They claim their employers failed to pay them for all the work they did and also allege their employers maintained fraudulent records of the hours they worked.

They also claim deductions made from their wages for accommodation and laundry were not reasonable or fair and their accommodation was not of a reasonable standard.

The defendant partnership is not represented in court, and the cases, expected to last some days, are proceeding uncontested.