The lack of protection for seasonal migrant workers is a “time bomb”, says the Independent TD for Dublin Fingal, Clare Daly.
Many of these seasonal workers are in labour-intensive industries such as horticulture, the hospitality sector, and tourism.
“There will be explosive revelations about the mistreatment of seasonal migrant workers as a consequence of the lack of regulation,” Ms Daly warned in a Dáil speech.
In reply, Pat Breen, the minister of state with special responsibility for trade, employment, business, EU digital single market and data protection, said the Government is working to improve rights for seasonal workers, particularly those from non-EU countries, and trying to deal with the issue under current legislation.
“In the longer-term, we will ensure we will have full legislation in place, given the high demand for seasonal workers,” Ms Daly said.
“The problem is that there is a regular flow of migrant workers, specifically in the agri-food sector, who are tied into accommodation agreements which they have no choice but to enter into.
“They then find themselves stuck in bad accommodation, with money being deducted from their wages and no way to question the legality of these arrangements. There are serious issues related to the enforcement of regulations.
“While agencies registered in Ireland are not permitted to charge employees a recruitment fee, those operating outside the State can and do.
“I remind the minister of state that it took a significant tragedy in the UK when 21 migrant workers died in Morecambe Bay before the law was changed.
Ms Daly alleged improper and possibly unlawful charges and levies are applied to these workers by employers or agencies acting outside the jurisdiction.
She said workers are being enticed to work in Ireland, moving from their families and homes, based on earnings and contracts, expectations which are not fulfilled when they arrive here.
She alleged there is apparent collusion between agencies such as banks, medical providers, accommodation providers and even State services in the provision of national insurance numbers, and that they are not helped in any meaningful way by the Joint Labour Committees which regulate conditions of employment and set the minimum rates of pay for employees in certain sectors, including agriculture.
Mr Breen said that his department is assessing the options for introducing a seasonal employment permit, guided by best international practice.
It would bring seasonal non-European Economic Area workers under employment rights legislation in the same way as other workers.
“We are putting interim measures in place to see what we can do within existing regulations, he added. In the longer-term we will need new employment permits legislation, a matter with which the department will deal. We will try to deal with the issue under existing legislation.”