16 December 2008

Slave Labour and Exploitation in Ireland

If you thought that there was now a day without a new scandal being exposed in Ireland, think again. It appears that this country of ours, of which many are still proud in various ways, has become one of the worst and most unfair places in Europe.

A new report, published today, has found that large numbers of foreign workers in Ireland - in particular in the restaurant and catering industry - are being exploited, many of them seriously and systematically.

The study, which was conducted by the Migrant Rights Centre, shows that more than half of the foreigners working in the Irish restaurant and catering industry are regularly paid less than the national minimum wage and do not receive a pay slip.
According to the report some workers earn as little as just € 2 an hour and work up to 75 hours a week. This is slave labour, and we should be ashamed of ourselves!

Unfortunately the report does not publish the names of the worst exploiters. I think that Irish customers and consumers have a right to know who is taking short-cuts and behaves illegally with its staff. Many of us might then prefer to eat somewhere else.

However, some recently published independent research has found that most of the fast food outlets in Ireland are systematically underpaying their staff.
Trade unions as well as trading standards officers are also concerned over the high percentage of foreign catering staff with little or no ability to speak and understand English. Many of these workers come from third-world countries where hygiene standards are rather 'casual', if they exist at all.
The only way of communicating with these people is through one of their fellow nationals who speaks and understands at least some English.
Not surprisingly, both communication and hygiene are very poor and these workers are also the most likely to be exploited financially.

Many are not even sure where they are. I encountered African kitchen workers in Dublin who thought that they were living in the USA. They are organised by ruthless gangs - mostly led by Nigerians - who pay them a pittance and pocket the difference from what they receive from employers. (It is actually not the first time that foreign refugees are brought to Ireland but told that they are in America. In the 17th and 18th century this was done on a large scale by English land agents, and the victims then were mostly French Huguenots and Mennonites from various parts of Germany and the Netherlands.)

Amazingly, there are no government inspectors or Gardaí working on these cases, and three government departments that are involved have not a clue how big the problem actually is.

In fact, it is almost impossible these days to find anyone working in catering in Ireland who is actually Irish.
The reason is a combination of two elements: Huge amounts of foreigners - especially from parts of Africa and southern Asia - are smuggled into Ireland and then available as cheap labour, which again suits catering companies who manage to cut their costs that way.
Caught in between are thousands of bewildered people from far-away countries whose existence is not much better than that of slaves.

Bill Abom, the co-ordinator of the Restaurant Workers' Action Group, says the government needs to take action to stop this exploitation.

I agree with Mr. Abom. Government action is needed and in many cases overdue.

However, it is rather unlikely, as the Irish government is fully occupied with trying to survive and saving the big banks' bacon at the same time. The idea that anyone in Dublin would have time now for some poor exploited migrant workers is too much to hope for.
After all, this is 'the season to be jolly' and the Oireachtas are going on their six weeks Winter holidays on Thursday, barely three months after they returned from their even longer Summer holidays.
It's turkey and ham that is on the minds of TDs and Senators now, not those who are exploited while cooking and serving them.

The Emerald Islander

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