Migrant Workers’ Rights: Discussion with Minister of State

I welcome Deputy Dara Calleary, Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs. He is returning to a committee of which he was an esteemed member. I welcome the officials from his Department, Ms Anne Coleman Dunne, principal officer, and Ms Mary Killeen, higher executive officer, employment rights and industrial relations division and I thank them for their attendance.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give this committee. If a witness is directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and the witness continues to so do, the witness is entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of his or her evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and witnesses are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person or persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I welcome members of the migrants' rights group who are in the Visitors Gallery. They have been in contact with members of the committee and with the Minister of State on this issue.

It is good to be back before this committee. I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it on the issue of the Right to Change Employer campaign sponsored by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland. I am aware of the ongoing campaign undertaken by the centre and the Department has been in discussions with it. The Department finds it completely unacceptable that any employer would mistreat, abuse or deny employment rights to any worker and, in particular, to immigrant workers.

The current employment permits system has changed significantly in recent years. The changes made have sought to strike a delicate and correct balance between the rights of the individual employee, the employer and the constantly changing needs of the labour market. Ireland's work permit system has developed from what might be described as a laissez-faire type approach prior to April 2003, with more interventionist policies emerging since then. In advance of the enactment of the Employment Permit Act 2003, the work permit system was almost entirely employer-led with almost no Government intervention. Prior to the introduction of the Employment Permits Act 2006, a special work visa-work authorisation scheme existed in the highly skilled and highly paid sectors but this scheme was replaced by the green card scheme when the 2006 Act was introduced. The work visa-work authorisation scheme was abolished due to operational difficulties and concerns that regulation was not sufficiently robust with the occurrence of specific instances in which the inbuilt flexibilities in the scheme were exploited.

The introduction of the Employment Permits Act 2006 implemented an actively managed economic migration policy that is vacancy-driven and where the offer of a job lies at its core. This approach, as opposed to a more crude system of points or a quota system, was decided upon as it could respond more efficiently to the emerging labour market needs. As the system is geared in this way, it is capable of flexibly responding to labour market needs while also ensuring that only those posts which need to be filled from outside the EEA are filled in this way. This ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances is very important as will be apparent to members of the committee, given the very significant challenges currently being experienced in the domestic labour market.

Under the operation of the system, a permit is only issued where a vacancy occurs that cannot be filled from within the European Economic Area in the first instance, and, second, by Bulgarian and Romanian nationals. A new work permit is only issued to a third-country national outside of the State where the employer proves that it has not been possible to fill the vacancy from within the EEA. To this end, a stringent economic needs test is applied entailing the advertising of the vacancy with FÁS for eight weeks and in the national and daily newspapers for six days. There is no doubt that currently workers from within the European Economic Area can fill vacancies for most of our skills shortages. This concurs with the conclusion of the Forfás expert group on future skills needs in its most recent national skills bulletin, published in July 2010, which found, in effect, that a limited amount of skills shortages cannot be sourced other than through economic migration from outside the EEA.

It is important to understand that migrant workers in the State are afforded exactly the same employment rights as other workers but I accept that, in some instances, it can be more difficult for migrant workers to seek redress in instances of exploitation. With this in mind, a range of measures aimed at specifically addressing migrant rights issues have been introduced in recent years.

The introduction of new protections for migrant workers was a key consideration behind the Employment Permits Act 2006. Under the Act, individual employees were given the right to apply for their own permit based on an offer of employment. This heralded a significant change that empowered employees, for the first time, to apply for a permit in their own right. This level of empowerment was further enhanced with the introduction of a provision allowing employees to change employers after one year. Over the past two years, for instance, more than 2,000 new employment permits were issued by my Department in respect of employees changing to new employers. These permit applications were issued without regard to the normal requirements of advertising the position in daily newspapers and with FÁS. Second, employment permits issued under the Act contain a statement of the rights and entitlements of the migrant worker, including that the employee may change employment, thus providing greater freedom and flexibility to migrant workers than was formerly the case. Furthermore, employers were prohibited from deducting expenses associated with recruitment from remuneration and from retaining personal documents belonging to the employee. These new measures, introduced post-2007, have substantially improved the situation for migrant workers.

A further improvement was introduced in August 2009. This dispensed with the requirement for a work permit for those who have been working lawfully and who have held an employment permit for five consecutive years. This measure means that employees have full access to the labour market for any type of job and with their employer of choice. These additional freedoms for migrant workers recognise the contribution these workers have made to the economy over an extended period and seek to reward that contribution.

Along with the arrangements I have just described, in October 2009, the Government also brought into effect changes which significantly improved the situation of certain migrant workers already in the country. I refer to the introduction of an undocumented scheme that allowed for persons who were formerly lawfully resident in the State but had, through no fault of their own, fallen into undocumented status. In order to qualify under this scheme, individuals were required to have been lawfully in the State and been the holders of an employment permit at some point. This scheme has allowed eligible migrant workers to obtain temporary permission to stay in the State and enabled them to regularise their situations by obtaining employment and further work permits. Separate provision has been made to allow employees who are made redundant during the currency of their work permits to extend from three to six months the time period within which they are allowed to seek and obtain further employment.

The Department also provides for new work permit applications to be made when allegations of mistreatment by the current employer are made. When such applications are supported by organisations like the MRCI, they are treated with sensitivity and fast-tracked by the Department. In such cases, the Department dispenses with the normal labour market economic needs test. That gives such individuals full and free access to all sectors of the labour market and to all employers. So far this year, the Department has received 83 applications for new permits of this nature, of which 67 have been granted, five have been refused and 11 await decision. These applications are dealt with expeditiously — normally within two weeks. I have nominated a designated officer within the Department to deal specifically with such applications.

It has been suggested that a simple administrative change could be made to allow employees to change employers without the need to acquire a permit. In reality, the proposal represents a fundamental policy change. As I have said, a core and crucial element of the current system is that employment permits are vacancy-driven. They are only issued if the vacancy cannot be filled from within the EEA, or if the position on offer is highly paid and highly skilled. It has been proposed, in effect, that we revert to the type of scheme that existed prior to the introduction of the 2006 Act. It could have a much wider application than the previous scheme, however, as it would also apply to workers in low-skill jobs.

When an employer completes an application for a non-EEA national to come to the State and work for his or her company, he or she is required to carry out an extensive and expensive labour market needs test. This is necessary to prove the individual's skill level and expertise are critical for the maintenance and expansion of the relevant business. The statutory fee for such an application ranges from €500 to €1,500, depending on the duration of the permit for which the employer or the prospective employee must pay. Employers can expect employees to remain with them for a reasonable length of time following the interview process, the making of the job offer and incurring the associated financial expenses. The unrestricted movement of third country nationals would have the potential to undermine the basis on which such people enter the country in the first place.

It would be unfair on employers who have identified labour market shortages that justify the issuing of work permits — and the potential arrival of third country nationals into this country's labour market on that basis — if that person were able to take up employment with a different employer where no identifiable labour market shortage has been approved. The work permit process ensures, as far as possible, that a bona fide employer exists in the first place. Unrestricted movement between employers would circumvent that part of the process. Furthermore, on renewal of a permit, the employee may not have the required documentation to show that he or she has completed up to two years of legitimate employment, thus leading to further undocumented situations.

Our body of employment rights legislation, particularly the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003, protects all workers who are employed on an employer-employee basis in Ireland. NERA is responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with certain employment conditions for all categories of workers in Ireland, including migrant workers. Where evidence of non-compliance with the relevant employment rights legislation is found, NERA works with the employer in the first instance to achieve compliance. Where breaches are not rectified, or where there are substantial breaches of employment rights legislation, NERA may initiate a prosecution. In 2009, €2.5 million in unclaimed wages was recovered on behalf of over 6,000 workers, including migrants who were identified as having been paid less than their statutory minimum entitlements. Other avenues of redress, such as referral to a rights commissioner and recourse to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, are also available to workers when breaches of employment rights occur.

NERA is willing and ready to investigate complaints made to it directly or anonymously. I emphasise that the current system can help to resolve particular instances of alleged breaches of employment rights, both formally and informally, through NERA or directly with staff in the employment permits section of the Department. It goes without saying that there is a responsibility on all concerned to provide information and details that come into their possession to the regulatory authorities where prima facie breaches of employment law have occurred, regardless of the circumstances.

The committee has specifically asked me to consider putting procedures in place to ensure that an employer who has been reported for exploiting migrant workers, and this complaint is sustained and the exploitation is proven to have occurred, is prohibited from ever employing anyone with a work permit again. The Employment Permits Act 2006 sets out various grounds on which an employment permit may be issued, along with the grounds for refusal. The Act also sets out the conditions under which an employment permit may be revoked. That may happen for a variety of reasons, for example, if the holder of the permit has been convicted of an offence under the Act, or if in the opinion of the Minister the permit was obtained by fraud or misrepresentation.

In addition to the legislative protections afforded by the Act, administrative safeguards are also built into the system. The employment permits section of the Department takes into account information supplied relating to allegations of abuse by employers in the context of applications to change employer or in relation to a new permit application. It is standard practice to refer serious allegations to NERA for examination and to put a notation on the processing system to alert processing staff that such an allegation was made. This measure is designed to try to ensure that employment permits are issued to bona fide employers only. Of course, it is only in instances where allegations are proven to be correct that definitive action can be taken. Allegations that are suggestive of exploitative or forced labour are matters appropriate for pursuance by the Garda Síochána.

The legislative protections offered under the Employment Permits Acts, as well as the administrative arrangements that are in place, act as a sufficient safeguard to ensure that only bona fide employers hold employment permits. I hope the committee is similarly assured in this regard. The improvements I have outlined, which were introduced to ameliorate the position of migrant workers, are considerable. I assure the members of the committee of the continued willingness of the Department and I to consider any reasonable step to safeguard the rights of potentially vulnerable employees. The essence of our current employment permits regime is the filling of identified vacancies. That is why there is an absolute need to retain the link to a particular employer. The retention of the current controls in the employment permits system is also in the best interests of employees. It allows the system to trace employers who employ permit holders, as opposed to a simple notification system, which might result in greater numbers of employees ultimately becoming undocumented. The flexibilities we have introduced into the system to deal with possible abuses of the employment rights of migrant workers mean that the arrangements for moving jobs are sufficiently flexible in the current circumstances.

I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. Having heard both sides of the argument, I am struck by the reasonableness of both presentations. We are trying to get an understanding of the scope for being a little more flexible. I do not think anyone is proposing a move away from the vacancy-driven model, whereby employers have to establish that there is a scarcity of workers in their respective sectors. The problem is that we need to decide whether people should be allowed to move within sectors in which it has been established that there is a scarcity of workers. It might be necessary to facilitate that so the scarcity in question is not re-established. Given that a test has to be passed, is there scope for removing this kind of indentured labour arrangement after the test has been passed? In effect, the Minister of State has said that if he concedes an inch on this, he foresees that people will move into almost any form of employment. He is worried that a person who gets a permit to work as a chef in a Chinese restaurant, for example, might move to any other sector after his or her arrival in Ireland. I do not think that was at the root of the suggestion. Perhaps the Minister of State can tease that out. Perhaps the Minister of State might also clarify exactly when a person can move and how easy it is for a person to move. When saying a person can move after a year, how easy is that process to go through? Is the Department of the view that obstacles should be put in the way, such as high fees or difficulty in getting approval, or is it the Minister of State's view that once a sectoral shortage is involved, there would be a degree of flexibility? There seems to be a different view of how easy it is to move in practice, even though the Minister of State says it is being done.

If someone is linked to his employer, it will be hard for him to object if he does not have the right to leave and take up another job. To what extent has NERA, in its effort to enforce, found that people are in this situation? It was mentioned that bad practice had been effectively pursued in thousands of cases. What is NERA's view on this? Does the fact that someone is tied to an employer undermine the frequency of complaints to NERA and its ability to deal with them? What happens if there is a complaint and there is a prima facie case? Do the rules regarding permits change so it becomes easier for someone to move?

No one is talking about opening up a new front for the obtaining of work permits or increasing the number of people from outside who are working here. It is a question of those who have been allowed to come because of a specific vacancy being treated properly while they are here until the renewal date for their permits

I can see the Minister of State's logic but it appears there are two trains on separate tracks and they pass one another without engaging. Is there scope for more constructive engagement on practical changes that could be made, like reducing the cost of changing employer or when NERA identifies a prima facie case? That way people would feel some confidence if they made a legitimate complaint, they would have freedom to move. Are there links within the chain that could be adjusted without the Minister of State abandoning the essence of the policy?

On the question about vacancies within a sector, the system is specifically employer-driven. We get requests from individual employers within sectors, rather than from a sector itself. The work permit is allocated to a specific job where a vacancy has been identified and has passed the labour market needs test. Our problem is that just because one company may identify a vacancy that passes the labour market needs test, it does not mean such a vacancy may exist in the sector if, for whatever reason, that relationship does not work out.

After a year, the employee can change but he or she must source an employer to sponsor the second application and there is a labour market needs test there as well to ensure that vacancy cannot be filled from within the EEA.

NERA has 66 labour market inspectors, eight of whom have specific language skills to service the migrant community, which they are doing effectively. Where a prima facie case has been established, we can change an application within two weeks and NERA would work with us on that. There have been 88 such applications this year alone, of which 66 were successful. The fees still apply. The process of identifying the case takes time and resources so those fees must apply.

After a year, the process is still the same. The labour market needs test must be fulfilled and we must ensure the vacancy cannot be filled from within the EEA before we go outside it.

If a person is made redundant, do the labour market needs test and the fees still apply?

The person is given a specific allocation of time to find a job. It is, however, employer driven, the person must find an employer to sponsor a permit.

Does the labour market needs test reapply at that stage?

There is no labour market needs test at that stage.

That is the key difference. If someone loses his or her job there is flexibility but if people feel obliged to leave a job because of unfair treatment, they run into this wall.

We would deal with the permit application very quickly. The important thing is to get the person out of the abusive relationship. The core value of the system is that it is vacancy driven, specifically it is employer driven, and we feel any breach of it would undermine that. The area that gets most attention involves those doing domestic work. NERA will be launching a specific campaign for domestic workers in November around the services it can offer those who may be in an exploitative relationship.

I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. If someone legitimately finds an alternative employer and the job is at the exact equivalent of where he or she was working, how long does it take to transfer? The Minister of State mentioned some applications where allegations of mistreatment were made and said the Department tries to turn those round. The numbers seem very low. If there were 88 applications this year, how does that measure against the total number made? Is there a reluctance on behalf of employees to come forward to make a case? If his work permit is being transferred, the new employer might be reluctant to take on a person who has raised issues about a previous employer. Is that taken into account by the Department or by NERA when it is investigating? A delicate balance must be struck but there could be structural changes that would make the process faster and more fair on both sides. The cost of making an application could also be examined.

The turnaround time is 15 working days. A dedicated officer deals with specific applications that are sponsored by the MRCI so they can be turned around more quickly. Over the last two years, we have issued 2,000 new permits in respect of employees who wanted to change employer. There is a willingness to do it and the process is in place to do it.

The costs of applications could be examined to make it fairer for both employer and employee.

The costs are a budgetary issue within the Department. We have just invested in a new IT system in the work permit section that will go live in the coming weeks. There is quite a considerable investment in resources and on the part of the staff.

Initially employers would be charged between €500 and €1,500. What is the cost for an employee?

It is the same.

Is that not the key? One cannot get blood out of a turnip. If one does not have money, how can one enter the process to change an employer, notwithstanding the new turnaround of 15 days, which I must accept is reasonable? Is cost not the big issue? If one is being paid nothing, is in exploitative employment, and subject to what we heard about in the recording, one could contemplate getting on a plane at the airport, but one could not do so because one's passport would be held. It is hair-raising stuff.

I thank the Minister of State for his very comprehensive presentation. Some of the points we would have made were knocked straight away. However, I see straight away the practical issue of costs. How does one get on the bus if one does not have the fare?

There are circumstances in respect of which fees are exempt. I refer to employers who register as charitable organisations, for example. Spousal or dependant permits incur no charge if they are issued to employees where the main permit holder was in the State and had a work permit prior to June 2009. Non-EEA nationals who are married to EEA nationals are also included. Unlimited permits pertain to employees who have been with the same employer for more than five years.

We have considered in the Department putting in place a system for exploited employees. Putting in place the paperwork we would need from the Garda or NERA to ensure a sustainable case might delay the turnaround time. It is my wish to get people out of exploitative circumstances as quickly as possible.

Is the application made on day 1 by the prospective employer only?

The employer or the employee can make it.

There has to be an actual job.

It must be shown there is an economic reason for the issuing of a permit and that there is a job. Either the employer or employee must pay the fee.

If someone is in a job for more than one year, he or she can voluntarily seek to switch employer. How much would this cost?

Approximately €1,000.

If there is exploitation by the employer within a given period – there were 67 cases last year — the employee is covered by legislation that allows the Department to carry out an investigation into mistreatment. The numbers involved appear to be relatively small. There were 83 applications for new permits. The turnaround does not involve fees.

There is a fee.

It would be paid by the employee in such circumstances.

It is between €500 and €1,500.

Once again the employee must identify an employer. Is the economic criterion applied in this instance?

If one has been employed by the same employer for more than five years, there is no fee.

That is correct, if the five years are consecutive.

Are there circumstances in which a fee does not apply?

I have just outlined them. They involve where the employer is a charitable organisation, where there is a spousal or dependant permit or where there is a non-EEA national married to an EEA national, and where employees have been with the same employer for more than five years. We must charge fees in every other case.

Under current legislation, can one approach the Department within the first year seeking to change employer?

Absolutely. If one can make a case to the Department or NERA demonstrating that one is in an exploitative relationship——

What about circumstances outside those?

If one were to allow migrant workers to switch employer at any stage, would it give them enhanced employment rights? Does it change the permit situation or one's legal status? What are the legal implications of allowing circumstances to develop in which one could switch employment?

Legally, we do not allow for switching over and back because, as I stated, the system is vacancy-driven. This is the very basis of the scheme.

It is vacancy driven in so far as one has been in employment for a year.

If one were switching employer to the extent the Deputy suggests, one's employment rights could be damaged because the employment relationship would be changing all the time.

Since the system is vacancy-driven and we know the employer, we can track the employer through the permit system if there is a difficulty. That affords protection that would not exist in an unfettered system.

If one is employed for less than a year, one is not entitled to switch employer voluntarily.

Not unless there is an exploitative relationship, in which case we fast-track the application. One would not have to do the economic means test in that case. Since the process of going though the labour market test and identifying the vacancy is expensive — the fee is expensive, irrespective of whether the employer or employee pays it – we believe a year should be the minimum period one can serve.

How many of the 2,000 employees who received new permits were redundant and how many were paying the fee of €500? Knowing this would give one an idea as to whether it is very rare that people make such a move, and one might be a little more confident about relaxing the terms. It seems possible, without upsetting much of the system, to have a relatively simplified procedure whereby a person who establishes a prima facie case of abuse would be able to change employer at zero cost. This would be consistent with the Minister of State’s approach in that it would back NERA and reduce the transaction costs that economists talk about in respect of people confronting a problem of this nature.

What is happening with permits? If labour needs tests are essential in the existing system, does the Minister of State have data that could show us the sectors in which employments are being granted now versus the sectors in which they were granted two years ago, thus allowing us to see the extent to which the system has closed up due to recession? If it is almost entirely closed up, the right to move is almost meaningless once there is a labour needs study. Practically, one must determine how many sectors are still deemed open. The Minister of State will claim the system is employer-driven rather than sectoral but I presume one must identify the sectors from which the employers come and that the Department has some reasonable handle on what is being decided upon. Knowing the sectors would give us a fee for the territory. If the door is almost entirely closed on permit applicants, with the exception of nuclear physicists or those with such rare skills, one must take a different view than one would take if there were significant job opportunities such that one could pay the €500 fee and have a chance to be successful.

I do not have a sectoral breakdown but know the 2,000 applicants served a year before the change.

It is a question of how many are redundant and how many left employment voluntarily.

We do not have that breakdown. We have a detailed breakdown of current permits which I would be happy to supply to the committee for its further consideration.

Our hands are tied budgetary wise when it comes to the fees charged for switching a permit. I am open to the committee's suggestions in this area.

Most of the people in question are on the minimum wage. An average gross weekly wage would come to €300, meaning it would take a person three weeks to get the fee together.

Has the number of permits issued dropped by 300% over the past two years? The administrative change being sought by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and the committee has nothing to do with seeking more permits. It is simply about allowing an employee change employer. As the Minister of State pointed out, a work permit holder has the right to change employer after one year without a labour market test. In such cases, does the employee have to pay a fee?

Yes. The difficulty, however, is the requirement to prove an exploitative relationship which can be time consuming. The fee goes towards an official establishing if there was such a relationship.

Does this mean a 15-working day investigation could become 60 working days?

I would not think so. The staff in the work permits section are top-class officials, turning around permits as quick as they can. Extra time, however, would be involved in proving an exploitative relationship. Waiving a fee, however, could be seen as making a judgment before an inquiry has concluded.

Are sanctions available against an employer involved in exploitative behaviour? The committee advocates refusing further work permits to such employers.

There is a €50,000 fine or a five-year prison term for such breaches. I get plenty of complaints from Members on both sides of the House about the National Employment Rights Authority being overly active. It is active in this area with 10% of its inspectors having foreign language skills. From November on, we will pursue complaints concerning domestic service workers, an area highlighted by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

Unless the National Employment Rights Authority is informed of an employee being exploited, it cannot pursue it.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, to the committee. Has any employer been fined for breach of the scheme?

Have employers' groups, such as the Small Firms Association or the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, made any representations about this scheme to the Department?

Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has informed me employers' groups support the campaign. The Department has had no direct representations from any of the employer organisations.

I thank the Minister of State for his response to Migrant Rights Centre Ireland's submission. Does the Minister of State see any barrier in some of its proposals being taken on? If so, why? Have any issues concerning accommodation offered and travel paid for an employee been brought to the Minister of State's attention?

The whole basis of our permit system is the link between the employer and employee. The proposal suggested by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland would break that link and undermine the system.

The issue of bringing an employee to the country is a matter for the Department of Justice and Law Reform. Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has brought various issues in this regard to my attention and I have passed them on to the Department. If there are specific allegations, the Garda will become involved. Concerns about a specific individual should be brought to the Garda or the National Employment Rights Authority for them to follow up.

Are people sensitive about bringing such matters to the authorities because of a perception that the workers in question might be on thin ice?

I accept it is difficult for people in an employer-employee relationship to bring some of these matters to the authorities' attention. That is why specific resources have been put in place such as inspectors with foreign language skills in the National Employment Rights Authority.

I support some of the measures in place. Over the past ten years Ireland has become a multicultural society and many skills which would have normally being filled by the permit system may now actually be available in the jobs market. For example, say an Irish entrepreneur wanted to set up an Indian cuisine restaurant. Will he still be able to hire an expert chef from India or will he have to advertise vacancies with FÁS? Is there wriggle room in the system?

The Senator opened his remarks by referring to the multicultural nature of society. Our contention in respect of that is that many vacancies can be provided from within the EEA. An employer who goes through all the stages, the labour market needs test, registering with FÁS and advertising, can ensure there is no one within the labour market here who can provide whatever skills are required. If the employer goes through that process and fails to find a qualified person, then he or she can apply for a permit on that basis. Permits are issued for very specific skills. However, we have a very challenging labour market situation at the moment. We have very talented people across every area, who can respond appropriately to many of the skills being demanded. That is why the tests are in place as regards work permits, to ensure that they get a fair crack of the whip as well.

I thank the Minister of State. Obviously, as Senator Callely has said, we are not just dealing with regulations and rules, but also people's lives and aspirations. People who find themselves at a serious economic disadvantage often come from the other side of the globe in search of a better life. These workers have something positive to offer Irish society, while we must take every precaution that the good name of the Irish as a fair-minded people is not undermined by the action of a few.

We all accept what the Minister of State has outlined as regards having to carefully monitor and regulate the employment of non-EU nationals, especially now that many Irish people are searching for employment. However, it is also important that we guard against exploitation and provide appropriate reliefs against any such unfairness that may be visited on people.

We shall certainly take a look at the issue in relation to costs. This aspect has reared its head at this meeting. Most of the speakers, including former colleagues of the Minister of State on this committee, are not given to histrionics. They tend to offer reflective views on life, and I believe the Minister of State accepts this, having been a member of this committee for a couple of years. We do not want to open any floodgates, and we know why he raised the issues he has. His statement, in the event, was very comprehensive and did not brook much argument. That must be acknowledged.

The Minister of State has indicated a number of issues that need to be addressed and perhaps as Deputy Bruton has said, there can be a meeting of minds, particularly as regards the cost. That bugs me because if a person is impecunious or has very few resources, it is very hard for him or her to assert his or her rights in any forum. That applies equally in this situation as it does in any other. We will come back to the Minister of State, hopefully, with a practical and reasonable solution, one that takes cognisance of our straitened budgets and the fact that the Minister of State is trying to improve the operation of the current situation, as he is. He is putting in extra IT facilities and that costs money. We also appreciate that the turnaround times have been improved significantly, and the skills of those involved.

The Minister of State should know that this issue has not left our agenda since last February or March. I hope he will take our comments in a positive light and consider the suggestions we have made in a constructive, reasonable and careful manner.

I again thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending and assisting us.

The Joint Committee adjourned at 3.05 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 November 2010.