Written Answers. - Foreign Workers.

John Perry

Question:

116 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the reports of immigrant workers being made to work overtime with no extra pay, being excluded from bonus schemes and of having their wages docked to pay the recruitment agencies; if her attention has been further drawn to the fact that foreign workers were being paid than their Irish counterparts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7970/01]

I draw the Deputy's attention to my recent press statement in which I indicated that I am aware of allegations and concern about exploitation of immigrant labour. I have made it quite clear that I do not intend to preside over a situation whereby a small number of employers will be allowed to get away with exploiting such people.

I would like to take this opportunity also to once again state that labour law makes no distinction between the rights of foreign workers and any other workers and, as such, immigrant workers are entitled to the same statutory employment rights and protections as their Irish colleagues. The labour inspectorate of my Department, which operates a fair, objective and impartial service without any differentiation with respect to nationality, will investigate any complaints about infringements of employment rights.

With regard to allegations concerning certain employment agencies being involved in the abuse of immigrant workers' employment rights, the labour inspectorate in my Department has been, and is, engaged in a range of ongoing investigations. The Employment Agency Act, 1971, provides for the control and regulation of employment agencies. Employment agency activity is monitored and regulated by means of a licensing scheme. Under the terms of the Act a person shall not carry on the business of an employment agency except under, and in accordance with, a licence under that Act. 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.
In general our employment rights legislation establishes the minimum statutory rights applicable to all 1.8 million people working in Ireland at present whether part-time or full-time, high or low skill, national or non-national. Where there is a question as to a differentiation in the treatment of one worker over another the provisions of equality legislation come into play once the statutory minimum requirements of employment rights legislation are satisfied.
While investigations continue into alleged abuses of immigrant workers employment rights, my Department is actively pursuing a number of specific initiatives as follows: possibilities for administrative co-operation with regulatory authorities in other countries are being examined as a means to control extortionate fee charging by employment agencies which facilitate the placement of foreign workers in Ireland; a fundamental review of the Employment Agency Act, 1971, is under way to determine the nature and scope of regulatory control appropriate to modern practices in the employment agency business; changes have been approved in the administrative procedures for the issue of work permits so as to better protect the employment rights of the immigrant workers concerned; the labour inspectorate business plan for the year has as a key task a specific and targeted enforcement campaign in employments hiring foreign workers as well as sectors where such workers are employed; the labour inspectorate is engaged in a systematic investigation of recent reports alleging abuses affecting foreign nursing and hotel/catering sector staff; relevant employers and employment agencies are being followed in this process with a view to prosecutions; it is intended that, as soon as is practicable, work permits will be accompanied by an explanatory document setting out the essential elements of employment rights legislation and protections for workers. This material will be presented in various languages.