I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, to the House.
Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2012: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the Minister of State who I hope will make this Bill welcome. It addresses a discreet issue that has as its basis the High Court decision of Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan in Hussein v. the Labour Court & Anor.  IEHC 364, which was delivered last August. Mr. Justice Hogan is well known to Senators as having been a leading constitutional lawyer prior to his appointment to the Bench.
The Bill is designed to amend the Employment Permits Act 2003 to address certain shortcomings highlighted by Mr. Justice Hogan in the Hussein judgment. I will briefly explain the background. For many years, Mr. Mohammad Younis, a restaurant worker, was paid well below the minimum wage by his employer. He was paid 55 cent per hour, worked extremely long hours, had no days off and lived in hostel-type accommodation. He was subjected to threats and was exploited. Due to this, he was awarded €92,000 following an official complaint about alleged breaches of his employment rights. However, Mr. Justice Hogan overturned the determination of the Labour Court to make this award to Mr. Younis, who I hope is present. He is in Leinster House somewhere, but I do not see him right now. The restaurant owner had appealed the determination of the Labour Court on the basis that, as the worker was not employed under a work permit, his contract of employment was illegal and, therefore, the worker had no standing to invoke the protection afforded by the State's employment legislation.
In Mr. Justice Hogan's judgment, he found that, under section 2 of the 2003 Act, "the Oireachtas has declared that a contract of employment involving a non-national is substantively illegal in the absence of the appropriate employment permit". As neither the rights commissioner nor the Labour Court could lawfully entertain an application for relief in respect of an employment contract that was substantively illegal in this fashion, Mr. Justice Hogan felt compelled to overturn the award made by the Labour Court. Under existing legislation, a non-national employee who works without a permit automatically commits an offence and his or her contract of employment is void. The Labour Court cannot make awards if a contract is void. However, Mr. Justice Hogan recognised that, on the basis of the restaurant worker's account, "he has been the victim of the most appalling exploitation in respect of which he has no effective recourse" and that this would give rise to "consequences which were not foreseen or envisaged" when the 2003 Act was enacted. Mr. Justice Hogan stated, "It may not have been intended by the Oireachtas that undocumented migrant workers - not least a vulnerable migrant such as Mr. Younis should be effectively deprived of the benefit of all employment legislation by virtue of his illegal status, even though he or she may not be responsible for or even realise the nature of the illegality." He also stated, "The Oireachtas must, of course, regulate the labour market by specifically deterring illegal immigrants from taking up employment" and that legislation, if applied unyieldingly, "might have serious consequences for vulnerable migrants who found themselves exploited by unscrupulous employers." Most interestingly, Mr. Justice Hogan's recognition of the unsatisfactory state of the law in this area is perhaps demonstrated by the fact that he resolved to transmit a copy of his decision to the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
It falls to us as legislators to remedy this anomalous situation of certain non-national workers. On this basis, the Bill seeks to effect a number of amendments to the 2003 Act and to remedy the position of the identified groups in our law. No more, no less.
I will explain the Bill's provisions. Section 1 seeks to amend section 2 of the 2003 Act so as to insert a new subsection (4A) that will provide a defence to a foreign national who is charged with being employed without a valid work permit. The 2003 Act provides for a similar defence in respect of an employer, but no such defence is provided in respect of the employee. Therefore, the purpose of this provision is to place the employer and employee on an equal footing in that regard. This provision seeks to address directly the legislative gap identified at paragraph 15 of Mr. Justice Hogan's judgment.
Section 1 also seeks to amend section 2 of the 2003 Act so as to insert a new subsection (4B) to enable an employee who does not hold a valid work permit to seek redress and to enforce his or her employment rights provided that he or she can demonstrate that liability for the failure to secure a work permit does not rest with him or her. This provision seeks to address directly the legislative gap identified at paragraph 20 of the judgment.
Section 2 sets out the Short Title to the Bill and provides for a collective citation.
I am grateful to the Minister of State and his officials for the assistance they provided while the Bill was being drafted. Dr. Brian Hunt also invested a great deal of effort in helping me. If the Minister of State could see his way towards accepting the Bill, I suggest we take all Stages today, although that is unlikely to happen. If we could manage to get the Bill through-----
We should. I am sorry for shouting.
I know. Perhaps I could urge with more vigour, but I would have loved it had the Seanad been able to agree the Bill quickly and pass it to the Dáil. I have spoken to members of the Technical Group in the Dáil and they are agreeable to taking over responsibility for the Bill when it is before that House. In this way, Government time might not be required to pass the Bill in the Dáil.
I gather there is no enthusiasm on the Government side to do this.
I emphasise the urgency of the Bill, as there are so many cases of exploitation that have not yet come to light. This legislation could empower those who have been exploited to come forward. I regret the representatives of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland are not in the Gallery, although they are visiting the Houses today. The centre has dealt with approximately 169 cases of forced labour over the past six years in Ireland, and it is likely that this is the tip of the iceberg, with many other workers too frightened to come forward. This type of forced labour has been described as modern slavery, with coercion and psychological abuse being used to extract consent in a range of explicit or subtle ways. For example, a person may withhold a passport or legal documents or otherwise threaten a worker's family. These workers mainly operate in non-unionised, unregulated sectors such as private homes, agriculture, the restaurant and entertainment industries and care and construction areas.
Ms Gráinne O'Toole of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland has argued:
There is no justice for workers who have been subjected to this severe exploitation and unscrupulous employers continuing to profit from this heinous act. This court ruling is devastating, not only for Mr. Younis but for all undocumented migrants left without protection against exploitation under Irish labour law.
She also indicates:
[T]he law as it is now interpreted gives a green light to exploitative employers. Other countries have protections in place where undocumented workers who have had their employment rights violated can seek legal redress. The Government must act immediately to guarantee that undocumented workers are protected under employment law.
The Bill also aims to ensure protection for those who have been subjected to forced labour, as this protection does not exist. The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland is supporting the Bill with enthusiasm.
I understand the Minister of State is working on a Bill that will introduce comprehensive and much needed reforms to the employment permits regime but it is likely to be some time before that is published. It is on the B list of the Government's legislative programme, and even when it is published, securing parliamentary time for debate may delay passage. If we procrastinate too long, who knows how many more people will suffer as a result? Politicians are often criticised for waiting too long and we have an opportunity to change that perception with this legislation.
I appreciate that the Minister of State may argue the Attorney General has not yet formed a view on the best way to solve the issue raised by the Hussein decision. I have had the Bill examined by a number of experts, including an employment law expert who is a partner in a major law firm, and I have been advised that the Bill is watertight. I urge the Minister to consider taking the Bill through the Houses as soon as possible. Even if the Bill passes all Stages today, there would still be time between now and the Bill's initiation in the Dáil for the Attorney General to reach a conclusion. Passing the Bill will not preclude the Attorney General from reaching that conclusion.
It is extremely unusual for a judge to forward a copy of his decision to the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and a Minister. That is what makes this case and the need for this legislation all the more striking. A logical interpretation is that so unhappy was Mr. Justice Hogan at the inherent injustice in the findings he felt compelled to reach that he wanted to flag to us, as legislators, that this is an area of law to which we should turn our attention. This is part of the healthy dialogue between the Legislature and Judiciary which serves the public interest.
We are here as legislators and must not forget our primary goal. Our aim must be to improve the lives of citizens through the laws that protect them. The Bill will achieve an aim of improving people's quality of life. We must bear in mind at all times that the people suffering as we speak who are too frightened to come forward are the unknown faces that could be forced to work in a local restaurant in any local town or village or as a cleaner in a neighbour's house. This modern-day slavery so-called is alive and well and we must do more to prevent such forced labour.
How does this still happen in 2012? We can do something about it through this Bill and must remember that we can act now. I know the Minister of State has a Bill that will cover this and many other items but it is important to realise that this Bill could be incorporated into that legislation. That may take a year but in that year we could lose the trust and confidence of many people who are being exploited. I urge the Minister of State to accept the Bill.
I welcome the Minister of State. I begin by echoing everything said by Senator Quinn, particularly his commendation of the learned judge for asking us to pay attention to the issue, especially in this House because some people do not believe it has a future. The learned judge clearly does not believe that as he has asked for our views. He has indicated that certain sections of the Employment Permits Act 2003 had perhaps produced consequences unforeseen by the Oireachtas. That seems to be the case.
We did not believe the €92,000 award would not be paid. It seemed that a man had been exploited for ten years as an undocumented and illegal immigrant, and there must be redress. Mr. Justice Hogan argued that the Oireachtas, "had to regulate the labour market by specifically deterring illegal immigrants from taking up employment as a failure to do so could have serious implications for both employment and immigration policy". If the legislation is applied in a rigorous and unyielding manner, the judge argued that it may have serious consequences for vulnerable migrants who found themselves exploited by unscrupulous employers. That is precisely what happened in the case in question. This Bill places a burden on the employer.
I tend not to like people in this House talking about the so-called undocumented, particularly when the issue arises in the context of the United States. Illegal immigration should not be condoned, particularly in the United States, which is a strong law-abiding country. I wonder how much political capital is wasted on the issue. We should ask people to get their affairs in order before migrating to another jurisdiction instead of always trying to make up for undocumented or illegal migrants.
Illegal immigrants depend on employers who operate in an illegal fashion. Senator Quinn's Bill places a burden on such employers, and all the evidence is that such a burden would be right. The judgment modestly calculated the burden at €92,000 for ten years illegal employment and exploitation, and it would gall most Members to think that an illegal employer could get off scot-free in this case. We do not wish to see a repeat of that. I commend Senator Quinn for all the work he has done on the Bill and it is an honour to support it.
I congratulate Senator Quinn on producing this Bill and bringing it to the House. It is a timely discussion. I remember hearing on the radio on 31 August news of the judgment of Mr. Justice Hogan, who reversed the decision of the payment to Mr. Younis. I was shocked and wondered how it could happen in this day and age. It is appalling that somebody coming here who felt, in good faith, that he was legally employed could be exploited over ten years. It took some courage for Mr. Younis to bring the issue to the relevant authorities but he was undone legally. Mr. Justice Hogan brought the issue to the attention of the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach and the Minister.
I raised the matter at a meeting of the committee dealing with employment issues and asked that the Minister be contacted.
We said the matter must be rectified. We want to ensure that unscrupulous employers do not benefit from this gap and, therefore, there is a sense of urgency about dealing with the appalling levels of exploitation. The fact that this employer was brazen enough to challenge this speaks volumes about the type of individuals who exploit people from other countries, particularly countries outside the European Union and Switzerland.
We all understand that we have controls on employment because there may be people in this country and across the EU who could take up those positions. Members will remember the time when we had full employment - it was a relatively short time ago - and there was a high demand for individuals to work in the catering, domestic and hospitality sectors. There were strict controls in place at that time but nonetheless there was a need to bring people here to work who had the necessary skills. That has changed now and there is an onus on all of us as Members of this House to ensure that workers in such circumstances are not exploited and that their rights are protected.
This Bill is important. It is important that having been asked to do so by Mr. Justice Hogan we are at this point where we can discuss this issue. I commend Senator Quinn for drafting such legislation which is timely. I have a concern about sections 1 and 2 which allow a situation to occur whereby a valid work permit would not be available. The contract between the employer and the employee is under discussion but the work permit is granted by the State and we must ensure that every employer and employee would have a respective valid work permit. That is important because we would not like to get to a situation whereby a work permit was deemed not to be necessary when examining the relationship between the two. That balance must be struck. I have not met the individual in this case but I am sure he would have entered into the agreement in good faith and believed he had an agreement with an employer only to find that it was not a permit and he did not have any entitlements to labour protection.
We are in a different position today. During a discussion with the Minister in the jobs committee yesterday we asked him to grant work visas, work permits and green cards to people who can fill vacancies, particularly in the IT sector and others. Nonetheless, there is an onus on us to ensure individuals have the necessary protection when the Labour Court agreed that an individual had been unfairly and appallingly exploited, to use its words. I am sure that from a legal point of view it did not give Mr. Justice Hogan any satisfaction to have to reverse that decision.
I welcome this legislation and it is important that we have this discussion. I look forward to the Minister's comments as he probably has more expertise in examining the entire area. From speaking to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, I am aware he is looking to bring forward legislation on this area in the new year and that he has a sense of urgency in addressing it. I look forward to his comments on it also. I thank Senator Quinn for allowing us to discuss this issue and express our outrage and a sense of urgency that such a situation would be rectified.
I, too, thank Senator Quinn for bringing forward this short but important legislation. In terms of value per line of legislation it gives better value, like his former business, in that it does a great deal.
The Fianna Fáil Party supports the Bill which seeks to address what the judge recognised as unintended anomalies and consequences of the 2003 Act. I note the judge does not make any major criticism of the 2003 Act and I point out that it was the first time legislation on employment permits was put in place in respect of non-nationals working in Ireland and set out in dedicated primary legislation, with penalties for non-compliance. Every country needs that and it was done in that context and in the context particularly of the enlargement of the EU which took place a year later.
As other speakers have mentioned, the Migrant Rights Council of Ireland and other organisations in that field have done tremendous work because the facts of this particular case were shocking and outrageous. I wonder about the employment of non-nationals across a range of sectors in Ireland today and whether there is a reason for them being predominant in certain sectors and if that reason is a breach of employment law and of employment protections. Is it easier to get away with breach of employment law and minimum wage rules with foreign nationals? I suspect it is and that many foreign nationals working here are paid below the minimum wage, which is outrageous and shocking.
We support the Bill. As Senator Quinn outlined in detail, it seeks to amend the Employment Permits Act 2003 so as to provide a defence for a foreign national who is charged with being employed without a valid work permit as it already provides a similar defence in respect of the employer. The Bill enables an employee who does not have the valid work permit to seek redress and enforce his employment rights provided he or she can demonstrate that liability for failure to secure a work permit does not rest with him or her.
It was a welcome decision of Mr. Justice Hogan, who is an innovative man in many ways, to forward this decision to the Oireachtas prompting us to take action if we believed it was necessary. There was no directive from the judge to the Oireachtas to take action on this, rather he said that he was engaging in a conversation between two branches of power in this country. That was innovative and it has prompted Senator Quinn to write this Bill and has prompted a debate in the Seanad on whether we should change the law. It was the right approach by Mr. Justice Hogan in this important case. He was not telling us what to do but merely highlighting an issue to us that is within the domain of this Oireachtas and this Seanad to address.
I object to people talking about an opportunity to debate and to show our outrage. The Seanad is about legislating and changing the law. That is the power that we have. We have a power which is relatively rare in Upper Houses in parliaments across the world in that we have the power to initiate legislation. In many parliaments throughout Europe the Upper House does not have the power to initiate legislation; it is merely a revising Chamber. This is more than a revising Chamber and Senator Quinn has taken the purpose of the Seanad under the Constitution and actioned it in a most important area. We can have all the debates and the talking shops we want but we are not a talking shop. We are a Legislature and we should legislate and come to the best possible view among ourselves in response to this matter.
We will support this legislation if Senator Quinn chooses to put it to a vote. He operates in a very friendly manner and tends not to cause offence. He tries to get consensus but the Senator has a great deal of experience and having taken on advice it will be a pity if the Government says that further examination is needed. The only examination needed under law is an examination by the Oireachtas. Senator Quinn has done a significant amount of work on this issue and we will continue that examination in the course of this debate. He calls for all Stages to be taken today. I support that call and applauded him when he said it, but we do not believe in that. Legislation should be examined carefully but that does not mean it should be delayed; rather it should be done as soon as possible and putting this Bill through Committee and Report Stages could be done quickly. It is our opinion that counts, not those of officials in Departments.
I understand they were helpful, nonetheless, to Senator Quinn and I hope the Government will support the Bill and allow it to complete Second Stage. That would rectify this wrong, which still places a considerable burden on people. There must be a balance between giving rights and not allowing the flood gates to open. Senator Quinn has very carefully addressed the balance and produced equitable legislation which we should all be able to support.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the Chamber and Senator Quinn for introducing his Bill to the Seanad. It is a very practical Bill. The judge in this court proceeding wrote to the Ceann Comhairle in what may be the first act of its kind. He obviously felt so strongly about this injustice to Mr. Younis that he had no other course of action open to him. There was an anomaly in the system, demonstrating that people will be exploited where there is that possibility. I welcome Senator Byrne's comments about the function of the Seanad and agree completely that the function we have is very important. In this case we can introduce a Bill that would have a practical use for people who could potentially be exploited.
It reminds me of Children of the Dead End, the book by Patrick MacGill detailing the Irish going to Scotland as being exploited from the age of 12 by unscrupulous employers. It is not exactly the same but approximately 100 years ago, many young Irish kids were used and abused by employers. That probably happened in other parts of the free world as well. We are now in a position where we can legislate to prevent this happening again in this country. I am sure everyone would agree that Mr. Younis was entitled to the €92,000 award but the legislation did not allow him to collect it. The judge made the correct decision in that respect and there is a chance today to address that issue, although not in monetary terms. For future cases, Mr. Younis has done the State some service. I have never met the gentleman but I am sure he has mixed feelings about the country he has worked in. The message from the Seanad is that there is 100% support from the Government and the Opposition. The case has been highlighted and we hope it will set a precedent for the future.
The Minister of State has indicated that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will make this a priority in the new year. It is important that we debate the issue and get out the message that the future for international workers in this country is safe. This could be my sons or daughters in another country, and we expect other countries to treat people like they would their own population. It is important that as a nation used to emigration, we afford the people coming to this country the same rights we would expect in other countries today.
I ask the Minister of State to support the Bill and congratulate Senators Quinn and Barrett for bringing forward the Bill. I hope it makes the news for the right reasons and is highlighted in the media in the next few days. This Bill is important and the Senators have practically moved it along on their own. The issue may be buried in negative comments in the media but it deserves to be front-page news.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and begin by joining everybody else in commending Senator Quinn for his initiative in bringing forward this important and necessary Bill. I echo the words of Senator Byrne as this debate forms part of the role of this House and we are here to legislate. The debates we have should inform the legislation and today's Bill is a sign we are getting down to business.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill and its purpose. Unfortunately, forced labour is alive and well in Ireland, as is clearly demonstrated by the shocking exploitation of Mohammad Younis and our laws, albeit unintentionally, protecting the perpetrators. The High Court was correct in law to overturn the determination of the Labour Court to award over €90,000 to Mr. Mohammad Younis for alleged breaches of his employment rights, including threats, payment "well below" the minimum wage, the imposition of extremely long working hours of 77 hours per week with insufficient breaks and no day off and the failure to renew Mr Younis's work permit, thus rendering him undocumented in the State and extremely vulnerable to the exploitation and mistreatment meted against him. Senator Quinn very clearly elaborated on Mr. Younis's case.
The High Court was correct in law because as set out in section 2 of the Employment Permits Act 2003 finds that Mr Younis does not have a valid and legal work permit and as such cannot benefit from relief in respect of an employment contract. It was correct in law but it was not just and right; part of the law should make circumstances just and right. It is clear that Mr. Justice Hogan recognised this, and in overturning the award made by the Labour Court, he stated that Mr Younis "has been the victim of the most appalling exploitation in respect of which he has no effective remedy." As colleagues have noted, Mr. Justice Hogan further felt compelled to send a copy of his decision to the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton.
I appreciate that the Department is currently working with the Office of the Attorney General to examine options to address the lacuna in the Employment Permits Act 2003 arising from the High Court decision. Having carefully considered the Bill, it seems to be a viable and immediate option at our disposal to plug the legislative gap, which in real terms means protecting very vulnerable workers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers. This is not an issue that has the luxury of the time it can often take for the legislative process to deliver. It is an immediate problem.
The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland has 30 cases of exploited workers in precarious positions with work permits at various stages before the Labour Relations Commission. Clarity, certainty and legal protection must be brought as a matter of absolute urgency to these people. I urge all Members to support the Bill before us.
Before concluding it would be remiss of me not to point out that while the lacuna in the law to which this amendment purports to remedy was unforeseen or unintentional in its impact, there is no room for suggesting the Government is unaware of the negative and dangerous consequences of its failure to legislate against forced labour either as a solitary offence or by amending the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 to define forced labour. The current legislative protections afforded through ordinary criminal offences such as false imprisonment, blackmail, assault, coercion, or the immigration or health and safety law are not appropriate or sufficient given the profile of the victims and the likelihood that they will have neither the knowledge of nor the confidence to evoke these protections.
A law or a clearly defined provision on forced labour in existing legislation would give victims confidence and act as a deterrent to their exploiters, which is increasingly necessary, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that the recession is leading to greater recourse to very cheap or free labour by unscrupulous employers. I use today's debate on this Bill to call on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to publish the publish the International Labour Organisation’s report on criminalising forced labour in Ireland, which I understand sought to assess what Ireland would need to do to become fully compliant with, among others, the ILO forced and compulsory labour and abolition of forced labour conventions, the United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery; and Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The report is available - let us publish it. With 160 cases of forced labour in the past six years and rising, according to the Migrant Rights Centre, I also call for a wider Seanad debate on forced labour in Ireland.
I thank Senator Quinn for introducing the Bill. It is discreet legislation that protects vulnerable workers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers. We need to pass the Bill, but it is only the first step towards ensuring that we send a clear message to the effect that Ireland does not tolerate forced labour. We cannot lecture other countries about forced labour while tolerating it on our own doorstep.
This is a serious issue and I thank Senator Quinn for putting it on the agenda. The Bill is a one-page document. Someone once stated that he was a one-page man. However, one page containing valuable information that is succinctly put is better than 10,000 words that say nothing. Will the Minister of State consider the Bill? I do not know what answer he will give, but perhaps he could model any response on the Bill. It covers what needs to be covered in a short, readable way.
I was struck by the action taken by Mr. Justice Hogan in his judgment. His hands were tied behind his back. According to my reading of the judgment, had he the power there and then to say that the law was an ass and to change it, he would have done so. However, he does not have that power. As two Senators have stated, the Seanad is privileged, in that it has some power to change legislation, although this may seldom be recognised.
Private Members' business is not used or abused in the Seanad for the sake of publicity as may be the case in the Lower House on Friday afternoons. It is used when necessary. The Minister of State might take this point into consideration.
As Senator Quinn stated, Mr. Mohammad Younis has been the victim of the most appalling exploitation in respect of which he has no effective recourse. That this can be said of any person in Ireland means that we should all hang our heads in shame. In the past six years, there have been 160 cases, but we cannot even stand over one.
I do not know whether the Minister of State has a timeframe for legislation but something must be done. I commend Senator Quinn for introducing the Bill, as Mr. Justice Hogan stated that it fell to the Legislature to remedy this anomalous situation for certain foreign national workers. The judge could not do anything but act in accordance with the law and, has been stated, the judgment is correct in legal terms, but everyone can see that the law needs changing.
The Bill places employees on the same footing as employers. Why should each employee not have his or her rights regarded? Much has been stated about the exploitation of workers. We did not need to watch films of slave labour. One need only remember instances of slave labour in any country, including ours. We should be past that day, but we must ensure that there are laws against unscrupulous employers. Good employers of foreign nationals have had their names blackened. Everyone cannot be tarred with the same brush, but some unscrupulous employers will take advantage, and even more so now that they know advantage can be taken. This possibility should urge the Minister of State to prioritise the issue.
As Senator Clune mentioned, the employer had the neck to appeal the case to the High Court. In one way it is good that he did, as it showed up the loophole in the legislation. On the other hand, it revealed that loophole to other employers. The quicker it is closed, the better.
I commend the migrant rights associations and those individuals who are highlighting this issue and bringing it to the fore for the Oireachtas. No one should be proud of forced labour and we would hate it if any of our citizens was subjected to it abroad.
Usually, ordinary Members such as me object to the Government rushing legislation through all Stages. However, I want to join the growing number of Members who want to do that. There is no great fuss. This is a simple, one-page Bill. It is perfectly obvious and straightforward and nothing should obstruct it. We can put it through if we so decide. The reasons for doing so have been referred to in a glancing way.
The situation in question is continuing. Mr. Younis is in the Visitors Gallery. I salute him for the courage and dignity that he and his family have shown. It is not just him, though. There is a backlog of 30 cases. What is extraordinary and bizarre is the affrontery and sheer brass neck of his cousin and other employers who flagrantly break the law yet appeal to the law to protect them.
Let us act now. We can do it. Others might suffer in the same way. It is certainly not justice. It may be law, but the law does not always equate to justice. Mr. Justice Hogan is a fine legal mind. I have known him for many years and he is a fine judge. Obviously, he is indignant. I cannot recall another time when a judge directly approached the Oireachtas. I have told the House many times that I wished judges would and that a proper channel would be opened up in order that we could have a dignified debate. It would be a creativity way of dealing with lacunae in the law. Mr. Justice Hogan went as far as he could and made his feelings clear. Solicitors claim that there is a growing body of the people in question. They have scented the blood in the water.
This is a human tragedy. Mr. Younis stated: "This is not just money for me, it's for my family. I've lost everything now." He had been living in a hostel on €19.10 per week, the equivalent of the allowance paid to asylum seekers. I wish to clear up a number of matters that may have inadvertently been suggested. He is not an illegal immigrant. He is a migrant worker who was placed in a situation of illegality. This is an important point and his case is representative. A previous case involved Gama workers from Turkey. An Independent Deputy in the Lower House raised the issue and pushed legislation through. The Government tried to take credit for it, but it did not get away with it. I made sure it did not when the legislation reached this House.
Mr. Younis's case is typical. A Pakistani national, he was brought to Ireland as a tandoori chef. He did not displace an Irish worker, since he had special and unique talents. He was unable to speak English, which is another characteristic of the cases in question. His employer, his cousin, failed to regularise his tax situation and kept his passport, an act that we have made illegal. The unintended consequences of the 2003 Act are nonsensical, in that the exploitative employer is protected while the employee is not.
It is a significant point that Mr. Hussein, in his evidence to the court, stated that he had got a work permit for Mr. Younis for the first year of employment from July 2002 to July 2003. Did he perjure himself in court? If not, is it not a stated fact accepted by the court that Mr. Younis was legally in Ireland and legally employed? I do not know why he did not get at least one year out of this. If the judge had been in a good mood, he could have inflated the amount and fined the restaurant owner.
It is a really appalling case, where somebody has been exploited and put in a position equivalent to slavery. As a result of his naïveté, innocence, lack of linguistic skills and understanding of an alien culture, he ended up as a victim who was punished because of the unintended consequences of an Act passed by the Oireachtas in 2003. The judge was right to draw the issue to our attention and I hope the rights of the man in question will be vindicated subsequently. We should act now.
The gentleman, who is sitting in the Visitors' Gallery, was grievously treated and put in a position equivalent to slavery, as several people have said. When he sought redress, the Labour Court awarded him €92,000, and an appeal was made. What kind of person would make that appeal? I call shame on that person. We know the victim has nothing. We can apparently and regrettably do very little for Mr. Younis and his family, although I hope something can be done. We can do something for the other 30 people, and it would be a stain on this House if we did not act immediately. The case of Mr. Younis is one too many; we do not want another 30 cases or unscrupulous employers queuing up to use this loophole. After the discovery of the loophole, it is up to us to plug it.
I compliment my friends and colleagues, Senators Quinn and Barrett, on their foresight and the brilliant way in which they presented the Bill. As they have both indicated, this is a simple Bill and a small mechanism that would take but a few minutes of the elected representatives of the people of Ireland to address this injustice. It is not acceptable for us to have to wait for the next work permits Bill when we have a solution now. Will the Minister of State ask them, for humanity's sake, to take this Bill? It will not obstruct the next work permits Bill and can wither away when that legislation is introduced, if it contains a section to address the matter. We should act now in order that we will not have to read in the newspapers next week of another such case. I commend the Bill to the House and ask the Minister of State to consider going back to his colleagues and ask those in the Cabinet to consider it. It would not take much time to introduce it, and it could even be done outside Government time. It would be an achievement for democracy that would give hope to workers who currently have their rights trampled.
It is not often that we have a person in the Visitors Gallery who is central to legislation before the House. I welcome Mr. Younis.
I acknowledge Senator Quinn for bringing forward this legislation. On behalf of the Government, I acknowledge the presence of Mr. Younis in the Visitors Gallery. I thank each of the speakers who contributed so passionately to the debate on this Bill. I will outline some of the historical aspects of the Bill. On Friday, 31 August 2012, Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan of the High Court reversed a Labour Court award of €92,000 to Mr. Mohammad Younis, a Pakistani chef, despite finding that he might have been "the victim of the most appalling exploitation by his employer". The judge found that the contract of employment was illegal due to the fact that Mr. Younis did not have an employment permit. The judge noted that the Employment Permits Acts made it an offence for certain employees to work without an employment permit. The Acts do not provide for any defence for an employee, which suggested to the judge he could not take into account mitigating circumstances-----
What about the public good?
-----and had little discretion but to consider the contract of employment as illegal. The result was that, arguably, the employer benefited from the illegal contract.
The issue raised by the High Court judgment is one which has important policy and legal implications in the area of employment permits and also in terms of employment rights. As Mr. Justice Hogan noted in his judgment, "the Oireachtas must, of course, regulate the labour market by specifically deterring illegal immigrants from taking up employment, as failure to do so could have serious medium term implications for both employment and immigration policy." The relevant provisions of the Employment Permits Acts of 2003 and 2006 hold that where an employee who was required to hold an employment permit has failed to do so, he or she is guilty of an offence and the Acts do not provide for a defence for an employee in this regard.
As I understand it, the judge took the view that this lack of defence affects the court's scope to interpret the statutory provisions and compels the court to hold that the legislation has created an absolute offence in so far as an employee is concerned. Importantly, Mr. Justice Hogan indicated that it must, therefore, be taken that the Oireachtas intended that, as such, a non-national employee automatically commits an offence if he or she does not have a work permit, irrespective of the reasons for that failure, and that this has implications so far as the civil law is concerned in that such a contract of employment must also be taken to be void.
The judgment identifies something which appears to be inherently unfair, that an employee who has unwittingly entered into an illegal contract of employment may not assert rights under that contract of employment. That has been acknowledged. I note that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, upon receiving the judgment, quickly stated his aim to ensure an employer should not benefit from using an illegal contract of employment where he or she was a willing party to its creation. I also know that the Minister met Mr Younis and representatives of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland and repeated his assurance that he would make changes to the legislation.
The Senator's Bill is to be welcomed and it should be noted that Senator Quinn has gone to great lengths in bringing forward this legislation. It provides us all with an opportunity to reflect on the judgment and to identify a means of rectifying the legal position. The Senator's Bill makes two proposals. First, it proposes the introduction of a defence for the employee similar to that currently provided for the employer. On the face of it, this seems to be a reasonable proposition. However, a fundamental aspect of the current legislation is that it is generally illegal for third country nationals to be employed in Ireland without an employment permit. Such nationals, therefore, require the State to give its approval to the creation of the contract of employment. Consequently, this proposition may mean, in certain cases, that the State would not have had an opportunity to approve of the employment in advance. This is not a fundamental legal obstacle but requires to be understood and acknowledged.
Second, the Bill provides for a foreign national, so long as it is established that the person took all such steps as were reasonably open to ensure compliance, to enforce the contract of employment and any other employment related rights under any other enactment. This may include any employment related right, and not only those rights under what would generally be considered to be employment rights legislation but also those rights under other legislation. Arguably, a wide spectrum of legislation gives rights relating to employment. Again, this requires careful consideration as many rights can be deemed to be employment related.
We want to ensure unintended consequences do not arise.
The employment permits regime is a managed system in that both third country nationals and their prospective employers must seek permission from the State to work legally in the State and also provide details to the State concerning the proposed work. A key deterrent is the legal assumption, with certain exceptions, that not having an employment permit creates an offence for the employer and the employee. The question that arises for policymakers is the extent to which such workers should be dissuaded from working illegally in Ireland by virtue of there being a statutory offence to do so versus the extent to which certain employment rights should protect vulnerable migrants who find themselves unwittingly in such employment positions.
I understand my Department is advised that the judgment raises matters that are particularly complex and that these matters are receiving priority attention with a view to identifying the best way in which the legislation may be amended. The challenge is to meet the objectives of the Senator's Bill in a manner which does not affect the careful balance of interests between employers and employees across the employment rights legislation as well as other rights under other Acts. In particular, attention is being given to the way legislation can be drafted to ensure the particular outcome in the case to which the High Court refers can be prevented in future in a manner which does not result in any unintended consequences. Decisions on the legal options will be made in light of further legal advice and in consultation with other Departments.
I stress that the judgement relates only to the consideration of an employee's rights. It does not mean that unscrupulous employers can employ unauthorised third country nationals without running the risk of significant legal consequences. I emphasise that an employer who engages in this type of activity is open to prosecution under the employment permits legislation and could be found guilty of an offence, and liable on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €250,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or both.
Can the Minister of State tell us if Mr. Hussein is being prosecuted?
It is the Minister's intention to amend the employment permits legislation in a precise manner to ensure an employer may not benefit from the illegality of the contract of employment where they are found culpable in not ensuring a valid employment permit was in place for the employee concerned. To this end, the Minister will propose the necessary provisions in a new employment permits Bill currently being drafted and which is anticipated to be introduced in the first quarter of next year. This would be the most appropriate method of dealing with such a technically specific matter.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I acknowledge and sympathise with the position in which Mohammad Younis found himself in when awarded approximately €92,000 by the Labour Court having been unable to seek redress from his employer. I welcome Senator Quinn's proposals in this Bill to protect all workers rights. Following on from the Hogan judgment in which he reluctantly ruled that the award be overturned due to the fact that the Employment Permits Act 2003 prevents an undocumented worker from seeking redress, it is imperative that we close any loopholes in legislation, and I understand the Attorney General is examining options to do so. I congratulate Mr. Justice Hogan in following through to the end on this issue.
The Minister of State said that nobody should benefit from an illegal contract. I hope and trust that illegal contract will be turned back on that employer and that he will be prosecuted for employing somebody under an illegal document. The Minister of State said such people are open to prosecution. Therefore, he should follow that up and prosecute him for doing so. We will certainly get the €92,000 out of him if we follow that line.
This issue is much wider than certain people being unable to seek redress from employers. It opens up the debate on the fact that a small element of rogue employers are still willing to exploit workers, and foreign nationals in particular. Unfortunately, many foreign nationals are willing to work for below the minimum wage as many of them come from countries where the deprivation is such that the amount paid is a fortune to them. Thankfully, the employers who operate in such a fashion are in a minority with most employers abiding by the rules and giving their employees due process.
Many people in this country fought long and hard for workers' rights going back to the time of Connolly and Larkin. The Labour Relations Commission and the Employment Appeals Tribunal were set up to protect workers and it is a shame that some employers are still willing to take advantage of their workers knowing that undocumented workers do not have any redress to compensation, despite the ruling of the Labour Relations Commission.
Employers should check to ensure every employee they take on is properly documented. It is not enough for employers to say it is the worker's responsibility. Employers also have a responsibility. It is the law of the land. If employers are knowingly employing undocumented personnel, the book should be thrown at them. There is too much labour in the black market and while I appreciate that has reduced significantly, unfortunately, it is still going on.
Prior to being elected to the Seanad I worked for SIPTU which has fought and continues to fight to stamp out the practice of employers paying below the minimum wage, not paying the joint labour committee, JLC, rates, exploiting workers by not giving them their correct holiday pay, not paying them for extra hours worked and not giving them their bank holiday entitlements. That practice is more widespread than we realise, particularly where foreign nationals are involved. Many employers will not even allow the union represent their members until the case ends up in the Labour Relations Commission and they are left with no choice. I understand that employers are under severe pressure with the high cost of rates and the cost of having an employee but I have found it is not those employers who are operating in the black market who treat their employees in this way. Many, but not all, are small time operators in the services sector who do not have a premises but move around a good deal to work at different locations. Most employers with premises are paying proper wages.
Many of us know of relatives and friends who work undocumented in the United States. We know also that there are undocumented workers throughout the world. However, if a relative or friend of ours was being treated badly in another country, we would like to believe the employment law mechanism in that state would protect them. Why not provide the protection in this country?
I congratulate Senator Quinn. I am sure he was a marvellous employer to all his employees. Today he is seeking to ensure employees' rights are protected. I congratulate Senator Barrett on seconding the Bill. I urge the Minister of State to accept the Bill and bring it forward as quickly as possible.
Tá an-áthas orm go bhfuil an Bille seo ag teacht os ár gcomhair inniu mar tugann sé seans dúinn ár dtuairimí a nochtadh, ní hamháin ar an gcás atá luaite anseo ach ar an-chuid rudaí eile a bhaineann le fostaíocht agus le himirce. Baineann sé seo leis an Gael thar lear freisin. Molaim go mór an Seanadóir Feargal Quinn toisc an taighde a rinne sé agus gur cheap sé go raibh sé tábhachtach an scéal seo a chur amach go poiblí.
The Bill is welcome because it gives us an opportunity to express our views not just on the specific case of Mr. Younis but generally on some of the malpractices which apply in this area. It is possible that if Senator Feargal Quinn had not brought forward this Bill, and I am not suggesting any inactivity on the part of the Government because I am sure that is not the case, the opportunity would not have arisen to highlight some of the practices taking place.
The only word I can think of in this case is "slavery". In a case in Britain, people ended up in prison because they enslaved people. By virtue of the fact the employer knows the employee had no option but to remain quiet and accept the treatment, this amounts to slavery. There is a gap in the legislative process if this is allowed to happen.
We can reflect on the undocumented Irish in America. Many of us visit America from time to time and we meet the undocumented Irish. Our hearts go out to them because they are not just non-entities but non-people to all intents and purposes. The undocumented Irish cannot move where they want to for the simple reason that, if they come back to Ireland, they cannot return. I dealt with one case related to Tipperary, where a married couple returned to Ireland. The lady was American and the man was from Tipperary and when he sought to return to America with his wife he could not do so. I saw the trauma attached to the case. It is no different although it is a separate issue if we discuss the pros and cons of people not having proper work permits.
The employer is central to this case because he knew specifically what he was doing. It does not just concern the amount of money, which was a fortune, but the fact he was prepared to engage in something that was virtually an illegal act. He benefited from it to the tune of €91,000, which is a huge amount of money. I agree with my colleague who raised the question of what happens in that case. I am more lenient and my heart goes out to people who find themselves without a proper work permit. We benefited as a race of people throughout the world and if we had not done so, we would not have 70 million people of Irish extraction. When we get wealthy and benefit from the Celtic tiger, we can forget our history and become a little uppity in our attitudes to others. There is no substitute for humanity and if someone has a difficulty it does not just concern the immediate person but the family, the extended family and people at home trying to help him or her. Whatever legislative gap there is, I hope it will be filled. I will be very disappointed if there is no follow-up action where the employer is concerned.
I refer to the bodies and organisations looking after what we call the new Irish. If they decide to stay in Ireland, they will marry here and, as we know from Irish history, such people often become more Irish than the Irish themselves. These bodies and organisations should feel secure that the Oireachtas is conscious of the problems and that at any time they can meet Deputies, Senators or Ministers. We are available to meet them and they should not feel that this is not a central issue while there is a recession. We have problems and a recession but, during the Celtic tiger, if many of the new Irish were not available to serve in restaurants and hotels and do other jobs, the Celtic tiger would have died much sooner. They took up the work and worked very hard. They were integrated into communities and brought a richness of culture, heritage and diversity. They should not be considered as a problem but as an asset. In this case, I commend Senator Quinn for what he did because it shows his humanity. As a legislator, he does not miss the opportunity to help those who have nobody else to help them.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. We all spoke about the High Court judgment on 31 August in respect of the Labour Court award to Mr. Younis. It represents a worrying development in terms of enforcing employment rights. The Minister of State said Mr. Bruton, "upon receiving the judgement, quickly stated his aim to ensure that an employer should not benefit from using an illegal contract of employment where he or she were a willing party to its creation". I welcome the intention of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to put forward legislative provisions in this regard when he introduces his employment permits Bill. I understand he intends to bring forward the Bill early in the new year, although the Minister of State qualified this point, and that priority has been given to it. The judgment demonstrates something that appears to be inherently unfair, namely, that an employee who has unwittingly entered in into an illegal contract of employment may not assert rights under the contract of employment. Lest there are unscrupulous employers, thinking they can employ unauthorised third country nationals without legal consequences, it should be emphasised that the judgment does not mean an employer who engages in this activity can get away with it. An employer who employs someone requiring an employment permit is open to prosecution under employment permits legislation. The employment permits regime is a managed system in that a third country national and the prospective employer must both seek permission from the State in order for the third country national to work legally in the State and they must also provide details on the proposed employment. The key deterrent against unauthorised employment is the legal assumption, with certain exceptions, that not having an employment permit creates an offence for the employer and the employee. Third country nationals are citizens of the country that is not a member of the European economic area. This Bill is a welcome contribution to rectifying the situation.
I understand there are a number of legislative options in this regard and Senator Quinn's Bill conclusively addresses the options he proposes. Had there been such a provision, the case that is the subject of the High Court judgment would have had an entirely different outcome. I understand the Minister, Deputy Bruton, does not intend to oppose the Bill and intends to allow it to pass Second Stage. He intends to bring forward his own employment permits Bill. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Quinn, on the Bill and Senator Barrett for seconding it.
It is a short Bill and says much in few words. I encourage the Minister of State to consider the issues Senator Quinn has raised when the Government formulates its own Bill.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I warmly welcome the Bill and congratulate Senator Quinn for drafting the Bill and Senator Barrett for his assistance.
Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout. I have no doubt the Minister of State's party, my own party and many people in the State will commemorate that event, rightly so. It was a period when leaders stepped forward to protect the rights of workers. While it is important for us to commemorate and pay tribute to people who made sacrifices in the past it is our duty as legislators to ensure that we protect workers as far as possible and ensure that exploitation is not possible in the Republic in which we live and which we all want to see. That is why it is important that this Bill be brought through the correct process and adopted.
I listened to what the Minister of State said about the possibility of bringing forward his own Bill. The enactment of legislation involves several stages in this House and the Dáil. We have Committee Stage and Report Stage. I hope the Minister will accept Senator Quinn's Bill, and amend it if he sees unforeseen consequences in the Bill itself. I hope the Bill will get support from all Members of the House.
The lacuna that was identified in the case of Hussein v. the Labour Court & Anor. causes a substantial injustice and creates the possibility of further injustice. In the Hussein case, the High Court ruled that a migrant worker who was exploited by his could not receive €92,000 in compensation as the employer had allowed his permit to run out without renewing it, rendering the worker an illegal worker, a phrase I do not like to use. The case highlights a major flaw in the Employment Permits Act 2003. When that Bill was brought forward my party colleagues raised the issue of employers holding the work permits of migrant workers, saying it was open to abuse and exploitation. Unfortunately, that has been the case. The fact that the worker in question, Mr. Younis, whom I welcome, with his family and members of the Migrants Rights Centre, to the Visitors Gallery, can be denied his compensation on the basis that his employer failed to renew his work employer permit highlights the flaw in the legislation. The Government should act to amend the legislation immediately.
Representatives of migrant workers met the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the possibility of using the proposed workplace relations Bill was cited as a way of resolving this issue. Whatever the correct procedure, there must be a strong call from this House that something be done as soon as possible to ensure that situations like this do not occur again and that people are not exploited.
I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Younis and representatives of the Migrants' Rights Centre in Leinster House some weeks ago. I offered my full support to him. I support the Bill and hope the Minister will accept it. Sinn Féin will ensure its speedy passage.
I take the opportunity to highlight the case of migrant domestic workers. At a recent conference in University College Cork which was attended by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, the issue of migrant domestic workers was raised. The conference, which I attended, was organised by the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights which was established by the Faculty of Law in UCC. It would be hard not to be affected or angered by some of the accounts the conference heard of abuse and exploitation by domestic workers internationally and in Ireland. We heard the testimony of one former worker who gave an account of her experience of exploitation in an Irish household. This involved underpayment of wages, physical and emotional abuse, refusing permission to leave the house, extra time worked on bank holidays not being paid, overworking, wholly inadequate breaks, threats of being reported to the Garda for being undocumented if she complained and withholding documentation.
There is a catalogue of abuse and mistreatment. It is difficult to come forward if one is undocumented or even if one's status is unclear. Conversely, this makes migrant domestic workers far easier to exploit. There is exploitation when one person has power over another. The courage required to come forward is immense and this highlights the difficulties in protecting such workers. Far too often, when exploitation is hidden from the public view an attitude of out-of-sight, out-of-mind is adopted. That is not good enough.
There are steps the Government can take to protect such migrant workers. An obvious step is the ratification of the International Labour Organisation Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The Government should take that action immediately. There is also a need for legislative and enforcement action. In particular, there is a need for legislation to criminalise forced labour. There is no place for forced labour in Ireland. There is no place for exploitation of workers. We have much work to do. We have come a long way in improving workers' rights but we still hear cases such as the one presented today and Mr. Younis's own account of his experience of injustice. We cannot allow these situations to continue. I appeal to the Minister of State to resolve this issue speedily and deal with the anomaly.
Fearaim fáilte don Aire Stáit. Senators on this side of the House support the principles of the Bill. Until Senator Cullinane referred to him I was not aware that the gentleman concerned in this case was in the Visitors Gallery with his family and advocates of migrants' rights. I welcome them to the House.
Anyone who has emigrated from this country will know what Mr. Younis went through and what it is like to be an exploited worker. I was an emigrant. I was not exploited, thanks be to God, but I was in England at a time when the infamous lump system operated in the construction industry. Irish workers were taken on, primarily although not exclusively by Irish owned companies, and paid a lump sum under the counter. They had no rights whatsoever and were completely exploited. Many of the motorways and large buildings of the United Kingdom were built on the back of such exploited labour. It is a credit to the Irish community in Britain that they rose above all of that and continue to make a valuable contribution to their adopted country.
We in Ireland have, in our genes, an understanding of worker exploitation. I am sure Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan was influenced by that instinct as much as by law in requesting that the Oireachtas address the issue. This goes to show that the Oireachtas and the Judiciary can work hand in hand. The Judiciary fulfils an important role in identifying gaps in our legislation, particularly where matters of human rights are concerned.
I am glad this matter has come before the House. I know of a worker from a non-EU country who came to this country on a work permit to a specific employer. Within a short time of arriving here he transferred to another employer and remained with that employer for five years, during which time his passport was stamped regularly and annually.
There was no indication that there was any difficulty with his work permit until he went to change his employment after five years. At that point, he was deemed to have broken the law, because there was no defence for the employee. The original employer had passed on whatever responsibilities it had to the second employer. As it did not do so formally, in effect it did nothing. It did not inform the second employer that it had to apply for a new work permit and that the work permits are job specific. In other words, when a non-EU national gets a work permit, one must work with the employer who got the work permit. The person was threatened with deportation. It was news to the individual concerned. However, I am glad that common sense prevailed. It was accepted that he was the innocent party in this and was able to have his new work permit documented and released to him. He is now in gainful employment in this country.
I appreciate that this is a different issue as it arose out of a claim that was made to the courts for exploitation. That is what opened up this issue. From that point of view, there are elements of this which we cannot gloss over either, notwithstanding that Amjad Hussein's rights were deemed by the court to have been trampled on. In a reply to a parliamentary question the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, said, among other things: "Justice Hogan found that it must therefore be taken that the Oireachtas intended that such a non-national employee automatically commits and offence if he or she does not have a work permit irrespective of the reasons for that failure and that this has implications as far as the civil law is concerned in that such a contract of employment must also be taken to be void." I believe that influenced the Minister about changing the law. The Minister's reply continued: "The question that arises for policy makers is to what extent such non-nationals should be dissuaded from working illegally in Ireland by virtue of there being a statutory offence to do so versus to what extent should certain employment rights protect vulnerable people who find themselves unwittingly in such employment positions."
That is the dilemma that has faced both the last Government and this Government since 2004, when we opened our labour market to the new EU states. At the same time, we put in place certain restrictions relating to people from non-EU areas who wished to work in this country. I am a former emigrant and would not wish there to be any barriers put before emigrants leaving their homes to find gainful employment because they could not find it at home. However, there must be a realisation that we are in a severe economic downturn and restrictions must be put in place. I have no difficulty with restrictions that are fair and valid. This case is not about that. This was about somebody who genuinely believed that he was coming to this country with a work permit and was then exploited. What is sad and, incidentally, not unique, given the Irish experience, is that it was a family member who exploited him. I can tell his family that this is not unique. From the perspective of my experience as an Irish emigrant, it was mainly Irish employers and sometimes family-owned Irish companies that exploited both family members and fellow Irish workers. That took place both in England and America.
In the few seconds available to me I must, once again, highlight, in the wider context, the need for the Government to continue to press for meaningful immigration reform for undocumented Irish people in the United States. Many of the rights we are discussing in this legislation do not apply to undocumented Irish in the United States. They are treated as illegal and if they contravene domestic law and are discovered as a result, they are immediately deported. These are people who are living, working and have raised families in the United States. I am from Leitrim but the Minister of State, who is from Donegal, is fully aware of this. I believe there is a change of sentiment in the United States as a result of the re-election of President Obama. The Republicans now realise that if they are to have a political future, they cannot continue to alienate ethnic minorities. From that point of view, timing is everything and we should now press ahead with this. I hope the Minister will state in his response that the Government will continue to maintain the momentum that previous Governments adopted to ensure that we look after the human rights of our citizens abroad who were obliged to leave this country, for no reason other than economic circumstances.
The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, was not present earlier when Senator Harte spoke about the Irish, particularly from Donegal and the west, who went mainly to Scotland over the years and the way they were exploited on many occasions. Senator Mooney has just spoken in a similar manner. Given that the Irish have had such experience of being exploited in the past, there is a determination that we have legislation in this country that will work well in ensuring that no similar exploitation occurs to foreign nationals coming to our country.
The aspect of this that has jolted me - it was mentioned in the debate - is that when Mohammad Younis arrived here, he did so legally. He was legally employed for that first year. It was the action of the employer in not renewing the work permit that made it illegal. Now that this has come to light, the danger is that other employers will see not renewing work permits as a clever way to exploit people. There is an responsibility on us not just to correct this, but to do so immediately. This is a very simple Bill. It is on one page and consists of a couple of paragraphs. The objective is to ensure that the Bill can pass quickly. I hope it can become law.
The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, have told us that they intend to introduce a much more extensive Bill next year, but my experience, particularly with the Construction Contracts Bill which is taking so long to become law, is that anything can delay a Bill, particularly an extensive one which I understand might have as many as 60 sections. It is important to pass this Bill, I hope in the next few weeks. It seeks to protect people who might be exploited. It is important to do this.
I have some experience with this issue. I introduced a Passports for Sale Bill a number of years ago which sought to ban the sale of passports. The then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, said he could not object to anything in that short Bill and allowed it to pass Second Stage. However, he said he intended to introduce a wider Bill on passports to cover not just that aspect but also other areas. I achieved what I set out to do. It took a little longer, but it was a wider Bill and incorporated what I was seeking. It is important, therefore, that we pass this legislation on Second Stage today. I hope it will be passed by the Seanad in a short period of time. If we do that, I hope it will be put before the Dáil. A number of Deputies have said they would use their own time to get the Bill through. It just requires the enthusiasm of the Minister to say that while it is not everything, it closes a gap. On that basis, he could incorporate it in the more extensive Bill he will produce later.
Mohammad Younis, Siobhán O'Donoghue and Gráinne O'Toole from the Migrant Rights Centre and particularly Dr. Brian Hunt who helped me with the Bill are enthusiastic about and have given their commitment to it and I believe it will achieve what we set out to do. It will not achieve everything on work permits, as the Minister will deal with that issue in the bigger Bill next year. However, it is important that we pass this Bill tonight.
On that basis we will do not just Mohammad Younis and his colleagues who are the foreign nationals who are working here a service but will also protect the good name of Ireland in the years ahead. I urge the Minister of State to agree to the Second Reading of the Bill.
With the Chair's permission I wish to correct the record. My references to Amjad Hussein should have been to Mohammad Younis. I hope the Editor of Debates will take this into account - all of my references were to Mohammad Younis and not to Mr. Hussein. I offer my apologies to the Younis family.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.