I propose to take Question Nos. 48 and 72 together.
In the context of allegations of certain employment agencies being involved in the abuse of immigrant workers' employment rights, the Labour Inspectorate in my Department has been and continues to be engaged in a range of ongoing investigations, including alleged abuses affecting foreign nursing and hotel sector staff. In the course of its current activities the inspectorate has completed 88 investigations under the terms of the Employment Agency Act, 1971, and it is anticipated that work in this area will continue for several more weeks. Where breaches of the legislation are established, prosecution will follow. However, it would not be appropriate for me, at this time to make any statement which might prejudice the outcome of these investigations. The current restrictions arising from the measures implemented to deal with the foot and mouth crisis are likely to impact on the scope of these activities.
Employment agency activity is monitored and regulated by means of a licensing scheme. Under the terms of the Employment Agency Act, 1971 a person shall not carry on the business of an employment agency except under, and in accordance with, a licence under that Act. In order to qualify for a licence an applicant must satisfy my Department as to compliance with certain conditions. These conditions are designed, in the main, to ensure that only persons who are of good character and who carry on employment agency business from premises which are suitable for that purpose are granted licences. In assessing applications, my Department operates a policy of strict adherence to all of the licensing criteria. In particular, the 1971 Act permits employment agencies to charge placement fees to the employers for whom they source foreign workers but it precludes them from charging such fees to the individual workers concerned.