Migrant workers 'powerless'


Migrant workers in Ireland are being put in a “powerless situation” where they are wholly dependent on the employer for their permit and continued legal immigration status, an Oireachtas Committee has heard.


An ongoing campaign by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland aims to give migrant workers the right to freely change employer, thereby stopping the exploitation of workers by unscrupulous employers.

Bill Abom, Deputy Director, gave examples of permit holders who were being paid below the minimum wage in Ireland, noting in particular the case of one Indian worker who faced “virtual slave-like conditions” and was recently awarded over €240,000 by the High Court.

However, he said while workers are aware of their rights they are reluctant to come forward as they fear that they will lose their immigration status.

He said that a “better and fairer” employment permit system would be one in which employment permits are granted to workers within a designated job category with the right to freely change employer.

“Freedom to change employer is not a new or radical idea, as it existed previously under the working visa/authorisation scheme in Ireland. What is required is a minor administrative change so that when a worker decides to change employer, he or she would simply register the change with the employment permit section.”

Mr Abom added that the lack of freedom to change employer was a major factor in workers becoming undocumented in Ireland, something which has been acknowledged by the government’s Undocumented Workers Scheme of 2009.

The committee also heard a recording made by a domestic worker, a carer, in 2009 who recorded her employers’ reaction to her request to receive minimum wage.

“If you leave this house you are going to be deported back home. You are going back in shackles back to Manila, in chains. That’s how fast it’s going to happen," one of her two employers told her.

Approximately 25,000 migrant workers are currently in the employment permit system in Ireland of which 75 per cent are work permit holders.

Permit holders are tied to their employer, that is, they are only allowed to work for the employer stated on their permit. While they may apply to change employer there are “significant obstacles”. This includes the completion of at least 12 months with an employer and the payment of another €1,000 permit fees and a two-month minimum processing period, during which time they are not entitled to work.

Cathaoirleach of the committee Willie Penrose said that Ireland had a history of emigration and that it was imperative that people who came to our shores were treated in a “fair and just” manner and supported the MRCI’s call for a better and fairer employment system.

The Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation also suggested that employers who are found to breach these rules should not be allowed to employ anyone with a permit again.

The committee is to write to Minister Batt O’Keeffe to ask him to examine the issues arising from today's presentation.