Court hears claims workers building section of N7 lived in ’terrible conditions’ at ’work camp’

By Ann O’Loughlin

A Portugese construction worker has told the High Court he and his colleagues lived in "terrible conditions" at a "work camp" provided by his former employers when they were building a section of the N7 motorway.

Armando Agostinho Alves Da Silva is one of 20 workers who allege they were underpaid while working for three Portuguese companies - RAC Eire Partnership- contracted to construct the section of motorway between Limerick and Nenagh in 2007 and 2008.

He said he and the others would start work at 7am and might not finish till 10 or 11pm at night.

Mr Da Silva told Ms Justice Carmel Stewart he and up to ninety other Portuguese workers lived in a prefab building where there between six to eight people per room.

The facility, which had been located at a rural townland outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary lacked basic facilities, and was cramped.

He said the water at the accommodation was not drinkable, the showers didn’t work all the time.

"It was horrible" he told his counsel David McGrath SC, adding there was there was smell from waste water from the building and also that it took a long time for bags of rubbish from the facility to be collected.

Meals were only provided by his employer on days the men worked.

On days they did not work, such as Sundays they had to fend for themselves despite the fact there were no cooking facilities in the building.

"If I had known It would be like this, I would never have come to Ireland," he said.

He said after a new company took over from his employer he moved into a house in the locality, got better money and worked shorter hours.

Mr Da Silva’s and the other cases are the latest of a number of similar actions to come before the High Court. In 2016 the High Court awarded 27 others workers a total of €1.5m.

All proceedings are against Portuguese based Rosas Construtores SA, Constructocoes Gabriel AS Couto SA, and Empresa Deconstrucoes Amandio Carvalho SA all trading under the title RAC Contractors or RAC Eire Partnership.

The court also heard evidence from consultant engineer Mr Ronald Greene, who said the mens’ accommodation was "utterly substandard in every respect" and "prison facilities were of a superior standard."

He said the facility, which has since been taken down, raised serious health and safety issues and lacked planning permission.

In their action the workers, who are represented by solicitor Tom O’Regan, seek damages for alleged breach of contract.

Despite working all the hours they were directed to under their contracts of employment they claim their employers failed and refused to pay them for all the work they did.

They also claim that deductions were taken by the employer from their wages for accommodation and laundry were not reasonable or fair and their accommodation was not of a reasonable standard.

They further allege their employers maintained fraudulent records of the hours they worked.

The defendant partnership is not represented in court, and the cases are proceeding uncontested.

When the matter was called before the High Court today the court heard a letter had been sent to the judge in charge of the chancery division asking it to appoint a solicitor to defend the actions.

Before deciding the case was to be heard by Ms Justice Carmel Stewart, Ms Justice Caroline Costello said assigning a solicitor was not something the High Court can do.

The cases continues tomorrow.

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