From Socialist Voice, March 2005

Abuse of immigrant workers increasing

There is growing evidence that increasing numbers of employers are engaged in gross exploitation of immigrant workers in many sectors of the economy. There are now tens of thousands of immigrant workers employed in agriculture, services, construction and engineering, as general operatives in factories, and as office cleaners.
     In the building industry there are companies that bring in building labourers and tradespeople from China under bogus employment agencies. They are not being paid the rate for the job and are living in accommodation provided by the company; there are illegal deductions from their wages; and they are denied their rights. In County Clare there is a construction company building a major bypass for the county council that is paying less than €4 an hour. The workers live on site in containers.
     Any employer who abides by the rules and pays the rate and statutory conditions is being undercut and has little or no option but to go down the road that rogue companies and bogus employment agencies are pushing. If they don’t compete with them they will be out of work. This is similar to the 1980s, when many employers would take on workers doing the “double.” The employer did not have to pay a full wage but rather a “top-up” to make up the gap between unemployment benefit and the rate for the job. So if you were a small and reasonable employer you were at a huge disadvantage.
     Recent figures expose how the Government and employers’ organisations turn a blind eye to what is going on. There are 21 labour inspectors for the whole country, with 1.9 million workers. At the same time there are 700 tax inspectors, 400 social welfare inspectors chasing welfare fraud, 40 forestry inspectors, and 40 to 50 dog wardens.
     To end this abuse we need
• more labour inspectors
• changes to the work permit system, now stacked in favour of the employers
• all government contracts, both local and national, to have stipulations regarding wages and conditions
• mandatory inspection of all contractors to ensure compliance
• a register of employers or sub-contractors who employ immigrant workers
• any employer or sub-contractor who abuses immigrant workers to be barred from government contracts.
     This abuse will only get worse, as the European Union is discussing a directive that would allow companies from different EU countries to apply the building regulations, wages and conditions of their own country to the project they are building in another country. It’s a case of a race to the bottom.

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