Work Permit System Leads To Exploitation’

Work permit system 'leads to exploitation'

The Irish Times
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

MINISTER FOR Enterprise Batt OKeeffe was yesterday urged to change an employment permit scheme which, it is claimed, is leading to the exploitation of migrant workers.

The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) launched a campaign seeking to give some 25,000 workers the right to change employer within their job category. Employment permits are granted to employers of workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and are subject to labour market needs tests.

The majority of visas in this category are in the services, restaurant and catering sectors. Other significant sectors of employment include nursing and agriculture.

The MRCI said the current system is leading to exploitation and also makes it difficult for workers to get a new job when made redundant.

The main problem with the system is that workers are only allowed to work for the employer stated on their permit, MRCI deputy director Bill Abom said.

In order to change employer the worker has to stay with an employer for a minimum of a year. The worker must make a new application, which takes several months to process and during which time they are not allowed to work. The processing fee for this application is 1,000.

It doesnt take an expert to realise that when you bind workers to their employer and deny them the right to freely change jobs it leads to exploitation, said Siobhn ODonoghue, director of the MRCI.

It puts workers in a powerless situation, completely dependent on the employer for their permit and legal status, she said.

In the last three years the MRCI has lodged some 200 formal cases for violation of permit workers rights.

This problem is also a major cause of workers becoming undocumented, Ms ODonoghue said. A change in the system would provide workers with a fair chance to move from bad situations and get back into employment quickly.

Mr Abom said no legislative change is required to bring in the new system.

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Innovation already facilitates those who wish to change employers with new employment permits a spokeswoman said yesterday

Last year the department issued almost 1,500 employment permits in respect of employees changing to new employers, she said.

A properly controlled employment permit system required that permission be issued to a specific employee for a specific job with a specific employer, she added. To do otherwise would risk abuse of the system.

Came from india nine years: ago worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week for 100 a month

SURINDER SINGH came from India nine years ago to work as a home cook in the employment permit system.

For the next six years he worked 16-hour days, seven days a week for 100 a month and never received a day off.

When he started to work he discovered that his duties were not only as a cook: I also worked in the clothing shop owned by my employer. I worked from 10am to 6pm in the shop. I also did all the cooking for my employer and his family, making breakfast and evening meals and lunch for shop workers and the children for school, he said.

Before Mr Singh went to work in the shop he also worked in his employers seven-bedroom house. I did all the work in the house: cleaning, making beds, hoovering, mopping, washing, ironing clothes, and walking the dogs, he said.

He also had to do work in the garden and other properties. I did all the outside work, such as cutting grass, washing the car, tiling and painting the house and a number of apartments my employer owned, he said.

He often worked until midnight with only a break for meals. However, when he asked for a day off his employer threatened to send him home.

He told me if I wanted a day off

I could go back to India. I did not

ask him again as I was afraid I would be sent to India. He would say you are on my work permit, Mr Singh said.

Mr Singh eventually left the job after a friend told him about the MRCI and he took a case against his employer in the Labour Court.

I was awarded over 200,000. I am still waiting to receive this, he said. If I had that right [to change employer] I would not have stayed so long in that bad situation.