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Migrant workers are not mere cogs in an economy - Morgan

12 October, 2005


Sinn  Féin  Employment and Workers Rights spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has
described  the  Employment Permits Bill 2005 as “a profoundly disappointing
piece  of  legislation.”  Speaking in the Dáil today deputy Morgan said the
“legislation  is  most  notable  for  what  it fails to do than for what it
does.”

He  said,  “Sinn  Féin welcomes the fact that this legislation puts current
regulations  on  a  statutory  footing.  However  this  legislation is most
notable for what it fails to do than for what it does.

“This  is  a  profoundly  disappointing  piece  of legislation.   It is not
underpinned   by  a  desire  to  improve  the  situation  of  migrants  who
contributed so much to our society and economy.

“The  provisions  in  Section  22  of  this Bill prohibiting deduction from
remuneration  and  the  retention of personal documents are to be welcomed.
But they must be enforced because otherwise they are worthless.  It is open
to  question  whether  this  can  be  adequately done given the current low
number  of labour inspectors in the state. The current system does not make
it  easy  for exploited workers to come forward and make complaints against
exploitative employers.

Referring  to  the current work permit system Deputy Morgan said, “The work
permit  system  as  it currently stands facilitates employers in exploiting
migrant  workers. The only change is that under this legislation, though it
will  continue  to  be  employers who apply for the work permit, employment
permits  will  be issued to and held by the worker, with a copy provided to
the  employer.   This has been severely criticized by those groups who deal
with the exploitation of migrant workers on a daily basis.

Concluding  Deputy  Morgan  addressed  the  issue of family unification for
migrant  workers  saying, “This Bill will change little in regard to family
reunifications  and  will change nothing for those with ordinary employment
permits.

“Migrant workers are not mere cogs in an economy, they are human beings who
are making a huge contribution to the state, and should not be subjected to
the hardship of being separated from their families.  If we as a state want
these workers to migrate here we must show that we value their contribution
by  addressing  the  issue of family reunification as a matter of urgency.”
ENDS


Full text of speech:

                       Employment Permits Bill 2005

Sinn  Féin welcomes the fact that this legislation puts current regulations
on  a statutory footing, the fact that workers will receive copies of their
work  permits  and  the  provisions which address exploitative practices by
employers.

However  this  legislation is most notable for what it fails to do than for
what  it  does.     It  will  bring  very  little improvement to the lot of
migrant workers and it involves very little change to the current system.

This  is a profoundly disappointing piece of legislation.   The legislation
is  not  underpinned  by  a desire to improve the situation of migrants who
contributed so much to our society and economy.

I  am disappointed that a Minister who at this stage must be fully aware of
the  extent  to  which migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation which
results  from  the current system has chosen to do so little to redress the
situation.



The reality faced by migrant workers

Some  of the most common complaints which arise in respect of the treatment
by employers of migrant workers are:

-   Employees not given work contracts
-   Employees not given their statutory break times
-   Employees not given wage slips
-   Employees not given days in lieu for working Bank Holidays etc
-   Employees not getting correct minimum wage entitlement
-   Work permits not being renewed by employers though they may claim to
employees that they are in the process of having them renewed

Other cases have having included passports being confiscated, workers being
paid  less  than their Irish counterparts and allegations that workers have
been  asked  to  sign  contracts  obliging  them  to  live  exclusively  in
accommodation provided by their employers.

Other issues which the Immigrant Council of Ireland has encountered include
no  holiday  pay; instant dismissal for being sick or having an accident at
work;  no  additional  pay  for  working weekends or bank holidays and even
passing on the cost of obtaining the work permit to the employee.

The  provisions  in  Section  22  of  this  Bill prohibiting deduction from
remuneration  and  the  retention of personal documents are to be welcomed.
But they must be enforced because otherwise they are worthless.  It is open
to  question  whether  this  can  be  adequately done given the current low
number of labour inspectors in the state.  Resources must be made available
to ensure the full enforcement of these provisions

The  current  system  does  not  make it easy for exploited workers to come
forward and make complaints against exploitative employers.



The supposed green card system

It is clear that these proposals related to higher skilled workers involves
little  change  to  the current system, provides no permanency and is not a
green  card  system  in  the understanding most people would have of what a
green  card  is  based on their understanding of green card system that was
operated  in  the  United States.   My colleague Deputy Ó Caoláin will deal
with this issue in greater detail in his contribution.



Why the current work permit system facilitates exploitation

The  work  permit  system  as  it currently stands facilitates employers in
exploiting  migrant  workers.  The employer applies for and up till now has
held  the  work  permit,  restricting  the  ability  of  workers  to  leave
exploitative employment.

These  workers  are  in  the most vulnerable situation.   They often do not
speak  the  language,  they  are  without  their  families to whom they are
sending money home to support and are afraid of losing their job, and being
thrown  out  on  the  street if they make a complaint.  On top of this they
know  that they will not be able to get another job because the work permit
is the property of their current employer.

The  only change is that under this legislation, though it will continue to
be  employers  who  apply  for  the work permit, employment permits will be
issued  to  and  held  by the worker, with a copy provided to the employer.
Only those workers who qualify for the two-year so-called ‘green card’ will
be allowed to apply for their own permit

This  has  been  severely  criticized  by  those  groups  who deal with the
exploitation  of  migrant  workers  on  a  daily  basis.   For  example the
Immigrant Council of Ireland has stated that it

   “is concerned that this still does not provide the worker with ownership
  of  their own labour and as a result concerns about workers being at risk
  of exploitation still remain.”


The  consequences  of the requirement to renew the work permit on an annual
basis

Under  the terms of this bill employment permits will continue to be issued
only  for  twelve  months.  There  have  been  many  cases  reported, where
employers have either forgotten, or have not bothered, to renew the permit.
Such  actions  by employers undermines the legal status of migrant workers.
In  many  of  the  cases  which  have come to light employers have not told
workers  that they have not renewed their permit. When the worker finds out
their  permit had already expired, they find that they are illegal and face
deportation.  If  the  employment permit was issued for 2 years it would go
some  way to addressing these difficulties and would give the employee, and
indeed  the employer, a sense of security that is absence when the employer
must renew the permit on an annual basis

Why family unification is vital

The  economy of the state needs migrant labour and migrant workers continue
to  make  a  huge contribution to the economy and to society.  If it is the
policy  of  this state to promote economic migration into the state we must
ensure that those migrants are treated equally and are given the rights and
entitlements  necessary  to live a normal life.  Most important among these
is the right to have your family near you.  This Bill will change little in
regard  to  family  reunifications  and  will change nothing for those with
ordinary employment permits.

Migrant  workers are not mere cogs in an economy, they are human beings who
are making a huge contribution to the state, and should not be subjected to
the hardship of being separated from their families.  If we as a state want
these workers to migrate here we must show that we value their contribution
by addressing the issue of family reunification as a matter of urgency.


What migrant workers should be entitled to

Sinn Féin is clear about the entitlements that we want to see delivered for
migrant workers

-    the  work permit to be applied for, issued to and held by the employee
rather  than  the  employer,  enabling that worker to move employers and to
walk away from exploitative treatment.

-    The  ratification  by  the State of the UN Convention on the Rights of
Migrant Workers and their Families

-    The  codification  of a common set of core rights and entitlements for
migrant  workers  including  family  reunification, the option of permanent
residence  after  a  fixed  period,  health, housing, welfare and education
rights.    Migrant   workers  must  have  rights  equivalent  to  those  of
host-society members.

-     Better   information   on  workplace  related  rights,  available  in
multilingual format, to be provided.

-    Effective  enforcement  of  workplace related rights with a particular
emphasis on spot checks on those employers employing migrant workers.

-    Enhancing  protection  for  migrant works and other immigrants against
racism, including a focus on combating discrimination, assaults, incitement
and abuse.

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