A CALL by Fianna Fáil TD Frank Fahy for a relaxation of labour law inspections has been condemned as raising questions about the Government’s commitment to workers’ rights and fairness.
The Galway West TD called for the budget of the National Employment Rights Agency (NERA), whose inspectors enforce labour legalisation, to be cut “in light of the financial constraints facing the Government departments right now”.
He added that it was his view that the agency should “be amalgamated with one of the other regulatory organisations in the near future”.
Mr Fahy said he had made a personal representation to that effect to Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe.
The intervention was made, according to Mr Fahy, after he received representations from business people concerned by an “unnecessarily zealous approach being taken by some NERA officers in the enforcement of regulations.”
Responding to Mr Fahey’s comments, deputy director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) Bill Abom, said that NERA was “only just beginning to scratch the surface in rooting out exploitation and wage theft by employers in Ireland”.
Mr Abom added that “cutting NERA’s budget would be a huge step backwards and that if funding was an issue, then employers who violate workers’ rights should be made to pay fines when they break the law and cheat workers”.
He added that the MRCI had made enormous efforts, without success, to meet with Mr O’Keeffe since March to discuss the problems in the work permit system, yet time had been found to meet Mr Fahy about cutting NERA’s budget.
“It makes me wonder about Minister O’Keeffe’s commitment to workers’ rights and fairness.”
Last year NERA figures for the catering industry showed that only 21% of those businesses inspected were compliant with labour laws.
Further concerns over lax enforcement of legalisation have been raised about asylum seeker hostel accommodation.
The Department of Justice said it could not directly comment on reports that many of he countries 52 Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) centres, which house over 6,000 asylum seekers had failed to be granted planning permission for a change of use to a hostel under the Planning and Development Act 2000
A spokeswoman for the department said: “Under the contract with the Reception and Integration Agency, it is the responsibility of the contractor to ensure that the premises complies and operates in accordance with all relevant statutory requirements of local authorities.”
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