The new Irish slave trade

The work permit system in Ireland is an utter disgrace. It is a disgrace to the Fianna Fail and Progressive Democrat parties which brought the system in. It is a disgrace to Dail Eireann that it was passed, and to every TD who voted for it. And it’s a disgrace that Irish people have allowed it to continue with such dispassion.

The work permit system reinstates the feudal concept of serfdom. It ties the worker to the employer. The employer gets the work permit instead of the worker.

Think about that for a minute. Think of the power that gives an employer over a worker. If the employer exploits a worker, there is very little the worker can do about it.

That would be outrageous if the worker was Irish, who could speak the language, had a network of friends and family and was generally clued in to the way things are done here.

But it’s not applied to Irish workers. It’s applied to people who come here from far poorer and less developed countries. People who cannot speak English. People who have spent their life savings getting here and cannot afford to be sent back. People who are supporting their families back home.

That’s a nice hand to have if you are an unscrupulous bastard, which is unfortunately the case with all-too-many Irish employers. Any fool could see what would happen under such a system.

And so it has transpired. People working with migrant workers on work permits are now hearing a litany of abuse and exploitation of these people. Tales of people being paid €2 an hour. People being subjected to arbitrary deductions of wages. People being deprived of their legal rights and being threatened when they enquire about those rights.

Some of the workers are also housed by their employers so they face a double sanction if they lose their jobs.

Now the Work Permits Bill 2005 is being brought forward to modernise the system. The Bill does make some headway in that prevents employers taking passports and bank account documents; and makes directors responsible for breaches of work permit law.

It also, superficially, gives workers the work permits. Yet although the worker is supposed to be granted the permit, the work permit is still tied to the employer.

This is completely unacceptable. People will continue to be abused and exploited under this system.

There are just 30 Labour Inspectors to police tens of thousands of migrant workers (and every other worker). They can’t act until they get a complaint. Who’s going to complain? The guy who is dependent on the employer for his job, his home and right to stay in Ireland? It’s a joke. A sick joke.

If there has to be work permits then there should be at least a state agency between the worker and the employer; or freedom of movement between all employers using the work permit system.

We have too much history as a people, far too much history, to allow this disgrace to continue.