A work permit is granted to an employer in respect of a specified employee and job vacancy, where the employer can demonstrate that the vacancy cannot be filled from within the wider European Economic Area. The EEA comprises the 25 member states of the EU, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Apart from the renewal of existing permits, which now constitute the bulk of applications, new permits are confined to highly skilled and highly paid positions. Current policy is informed by the imperative to address the identified labour and skill needs in the economy. In order to best achieve these ends, the work permit is granted to the employer. This ensures greater traceability, the more effective enforcement of employees' rights and enhanced administrative efficiency. In addition, it offers the employee the assurance of a guaranteed work position.
The labour inspectorate of my Department is responsible for monitoring certain employment conditions for all categories of workers in Ireland, including migrant workers. Inspectors pursue allegations of worker mistreatment, and when evidence of non-compliance with the relevant employment rights legislation is found, the inspectorate seeks redress for the individuals concerned and, if appropriate, a prosecution is initiated.
An application for a work permit requires a statement countersigned by the would be employer and employee of the main functions of the job, salary-wages, deductions other than statutory, other benefits and hours to be worked per week. Work permits are not granted unless there is compliance with minimum wage legislation. Applications for renewals require documentary proof that the stated wages have been paid.
Persons employed in Ireland under the work permit scheme in recent years have been readily facilitated in changing jobs. In such circumstances, a new work permit is issued to the person's new employer. This allows an employee to move to a new employer where there are genuine reasons the employee wishes to leave his or her existing employment.
The proposed Employment Permits Bill, which is currently at the final stages of preparation, will include provision for additional protections for migrant workers. It is intended that employers will be prohibited from deducting from the remuneration of migrant workers any costs associated with their recruitment. Employers will also be prohibited from retaining personal documents belonging to migrant workers.
Any evidence that particular employers are exploiting their workforce should be brought to the attention of the labour inspectorate for investigation. The new Bill will also give enabling powers to the Minister, particularly in regard to the question of whether employees can retain their work permits which is under consideration.