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Government facilitating abuse of migrant workers - Ó Snodaigh

21 February, 2006


Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has accused the Government of facilitating abuses of migrant workers rights by failing to act on them. Speaking in the Dáil this evening, on a Sinn Féin Private Members Motion that calls for the establishment of a stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Current government policies have made migrant workers particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous and greedy employers."

He said, "In Sinn Féin we believe that workers rights are human rights and as such all workers are entitled to expect equal access to, and enforcement of, their rights. In stark contrast, this government is happy to create different levels of rights. Current government policies have made migrant workers particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous and greedy employers. Indeed even within the category of migrant worker there exists a variety of different levels including the right to fair pay, the right to change employer and the right to the accompaniment of one's family. The top tier of migrant workers in this state, that is those on higher incomes, have considerably greater rights and freedoms than lower income migrant workers. This government's practice of discrimination on the basis of socio-economic grounds runs contrary to Sinn Fein's belief in the equality of all workers.

"Remember the message from Minister for Equality Michael McDowell 'inequality is good for the economy' -- that is employers 'go right ahead and trample on workers only some of the rights apply'. This is the Minister who is preparing the Immigration and Residency Bill.

"The state's failure to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers is clear from the numerous incidences of abuse that have come to public attention in the last year.

"The state has facilitated many of the abuses by failing to act on them, to have a properly resourced labour inspectorate and by failing to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. In 2004 the Labour inspectorate carried out a mere 462 inspections under the National Minimum Wage Act.

"Our motion is straightforward, positive and constructive. It seeks to improve the enforcement of workers rights and entitlements, and substantially increased penalties for non-compliance with employment rights legislation. This means a large increase in the labour inspectorate to at least 75 inspectors and provision of proper legal and other professional support for the Inspectorate. All these issues should fall under the remit of a separate and stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, and employees should be granted work permits not employers. All workers deserve protection of their rights, Sinn Fein's proposal would move this state in the right direction -- I urge all in this house to support it." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

Speech to SF PMB on Workers Rights -- 21st Feb '06

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights

In Sinn Fein we believe that workers rights are human rights and as such all workers are entitled to expect equal access to, and enforcement of, their rights. In stark contrast, this government is happy to create different levels of rights. Current government policies have made migrant workers particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous and greedy employers. Indeed even within the category of migrant worker there exists a variety of different levels including the right to fair pay, the right to change employer and the right to the accompaniment of one's family. The top tier of migrant workers in this state, that is those on higher incomes, have considerably greater rights and freedoms than lower income migrant workers. This government's practice of discrimination on the basis of socio-economic grounds runs contrary to Sinn Fein's belief in the equality of all workers.

Remember the message from Minister for Equality Michael McDowell "inequality is good for the economy" -- that is employers "go right ahead and trample on workers only some of the rights apply". This is the Minister who is preparing the Immigration and Residency Bill.

The state's failure to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers is clear from the numerous incidences of abuse that have come to public attention in the last year. I will remind you of a few:

- Ms Oksana Karamjana, a Latvian crew member on the Irish Ferries ship, the MV Normandy spoke out on "Prime Time" about her three-month contract working seven days a week for 12 hours per day with no holidays and no days off.

- 14 female mushroom pickers, from Lithuania and Latvia, dismissed by Kilnaleck Mushrooms, County Cavan in recent weeks after complaining about a change in work procedures. They said they had been working between 80 and 100 hours per week for an average of €250, about a third of the national minimum wage. They did not receive pay slips or contracts of employment.

- The Gama workers.

- Domestic workers who are more open to exploitation because they work in private homes, are alone, have little access to trade unions or information about their rights.

Very little of the all to frequent abuses of workers rights receive media or public attention. Some of the most common complaints which arise in respect of the treatment by employers of migrant workers are:

- Denial of work contracts, statutory break times, wage, days in lieu for working Bank Holidays etc., 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.

- Workers being paid less than their Irish counterparts

The state has facilitated many of the abuses by failing to act on them, to have a properly resourced labour inspectorate and by failing to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. In 2004 the Labour inspectorate carried out a mere 462 inspections under the National Minimum Wage Act.

Our motion is straightforward, positive and constructive. It seeks to improve the enforcement of workers rights and entitlements, and substantially increased penalties for non-compliance with employment rights legislation. This means a large increase in the labour inspectorate to at least 75 inspectors and provision of proper legal and other professional support for the Inspectorate. All these issues should fall under the remit of a separate and stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, and employees should be granted work permits not employers. All workers deserve protection of their rights, Sinn Fein's proposal would move this state in the right direction -- I urge all in this house to support it.

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