Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, inspectors do a fantastic job. They are an absolutely vital part of the industrial relations machinery. I am sure the Minister of State will not disagree with me that in an ideal world we would not need labour inspectors. However, we do not live in an ideal world, so we do need them. They perform a vital function.
Just by way of illustration of what they do and how important they are, in the period 2015 to 2020, WRC inspectors found breaches in employment law in 48%, almost half, of inspections carried out in the meat industry.
The reason this is so important is that in some sectors, there are workers who may not know what their rights are, who may not speak English as their first language, who may be afraid of their employer or who may have an employer who does not follow the regulations, though most employers do. Most employers are decent and want to do the right thing and most employers are reasonable to their employees. However, in 48% of inspections the Workplace Relations Commission's inspectors found that there were breaches of employment law.
In that period, they also recovered €184,000 on behalf of these workers. These are not high earners. It is not a big, high-earning sector. This sector is marked by low wages and precarious work and €184,000 was recovered by the inspectors on behalf of these workers. In 92 inspections in the horse racing and equine sector, 340 contraventions were found. That happened over a two-year period as part of a special project the inspectors undertook. It is not just about the money the inspectors recover but the fact that when they go to a workplace they are in a position to inform those workers about their rights. We could debate all day about why workers need more rights at work, because they absolutely do, but these workers can get information on even the minimum entitlements they have from the WRC inspectors.
I remind the Minister of State that as far back as 2006 I was involved in the negotiations for the Towards 2016 national wage agreement, as part of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It was agreed at that stage that there was a need to increase the number of labour inspectors from 31 to 90. We are nowhere near that figure now. We have more people at work and some would argue there are more unscrupulous employers acting at the moment, which underlines the very real need for these inspectors. For the workers whose workplaces they inspect and for whom they find breaches and rectify them, they are worth their weight in gold. It beggars belief that we have to have this conversation.
I know the Minister of State values the work of the WRC inspectors and that he will tell me so when he has a chance to speak. We all value them but we need more of them. Even with the reduced and limited numbers they have at the moment, they were still able to find breaches of employment law in 48% of inspections in one sector. To me, that means we need more of them because if we had more we could do more for those workers, uncover more and make their workplaces not just decent places to work but safer places to work as well. That has to be considered because it is a very important factor.