Ireland: Building workers paid â,¬2-â,¬3 per hour

Socialist Party exposes slave labour scandal

Socialist Party TD, Joe Higgins exposed a major scandal, when he spoke in the Dail about the gross exploitation of immigrant workers in the construction industry.

He told the Dail "This company imports workers…controls their passports and work permits, accommodates them in company barracks…pays unskilled construction workers between €2 and €3 per hour, basic pay and skilled workers somewhere over €3 an hour…The instigator is Turkish based GAMA Construction Ireland Limited", (see below).

Councillor Mick Murphy (Socialist Party) has met with groups of GAMA workers and he told The Socialist: "The workers I spoke to are extremely frightened of the consequences if it was found out that they had given information on GAMA. But they feel hard done by and understand that they are owed large amounts of money, and they are determined to get what is rightfully theirs".

Many of the workers in GAMA are members of SIPTU. The leaders of SIPTU have done virtually nothing to expose or fight for decent wages for these workers. If it wasn’t for the Socialist Party this scandal would never have been exposed.

Joe Higgins and Mick Murphy met with officials of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. As a result of Joe Higgins’ intervention in the Dail and the work of the Socialist Party, a full investigation into GAMA Construction Ireland Ltd. is to be carried out.

At a time of the biggest building boom in the history of the state, thousands of immigrant workers are being exploited. Some of these workers are being paid seven times less than the Registered Employment Agreement Rates and more than three times less than the minimum wage! Yet these workers are terrified to speak out in case they are sent home by the employers who control their work permits.

This exploitation is symptomatic of an ethos that permeates throughout the political and business establishment. There is a general assault on the wages and working conditions of many workers.

An Post management backed up by the government are attempting to break the postal unions in order to drive home their agenda of bringing in "yellow pack" wages and conditions. It is this same anti-worker agenda that the government is trying to force on workers in Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta, and CIE.

Instead of organising workers to take on and fight the exploitation of immigrant labour or to defend the wages and conditions of workers in the public or private sectors, the union leaders are still scandalously committed to "social partnership".

The Socialist Party believes that we need to reclaim and transform the trade unions into democratic fighting organisations committed to defending workers’ rights and conditions.

The Socialist Party is fully committed to fighting for workers’ rights, and to assisting exploited workers in their fight for justice. We are also committed to getting rid of the system that is at the root cause of this exploitation and poverty in society – capitalism.

Building workers paid €2-€3 per hour

Joe Higgins exposes ’bonded labour’

The Socialist staff

On 8 February Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins questioned Bertie Ahern about the plight of Turkish workers employed in Ireland by the multinational construction company GAMA.

This company has received numerous state funded construction contracts and is engaged in super-exploitation of its Turkish workforce, and this exploitation is being ignored by the government.

Joe Higgins: "I wish to raise, in particular, one major scandal of immigrant worker exploitation of massive proportions. There is a major foreign-based multinational construction company employing approximately 10,000 people, 2,000 approximately in this state, which has secured massive local authority and state contracts here. This company imports workers from their home base, who do not speak English, controls their passports and work permits, accommodates them often in company barracks, demands an extent of hours worked that can only be called grotesque and, incredibly, pays unskilled construction workers between €2 and €3 per hour, basic pay and skilled workers somewhere over €3 an hour. In short, this is a modern version of bonded labour. The instigator is Turkish-based Gama Construc-tion Ireland Limited.

The national minimum wage is €7 an hour. The registered employment agreement for the lowest paid operative in construction is €12.96 an hour. This case is a national scandal financed by extensive public funding. I call on the Taoiseach to ask the Minister and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as a matter of priority, to order an immediate investigation into Gama Construction and its pay and work practices.

Will its records be demanded? Will the Taoiseach ensure that interviews are conducted with workers out of the way of company pressure? Will he ensure the Department sees that no worker is victimised as a result of this investigation and if Gama Construction should act to send workers home, a method used by these companies, those workers are sheltered and protected?"

GAMA bonded labour scandal

JOE HIGGINS TD’s exposure of the exploitation of Turkish workers employed by GAMA in the Dail has opened a can of worms. Since Joe told the Dail on 8 February 2005 that GAMA workers were getting paid as little as e2.20 an hour, numerous examples of the exploitation of immigrant workers from Poland, Lithuania, Romania and other countries have come to light.

A picture is emerging of massive exploitation of immigrant labour all across the country. These workers have been afraid to speak out or fight to improve their wages and conditions because of the threat from employers to send them back home if they cause "trouble". The government is ultimately responsible for these conditions of bonded labour. It gives work permits to the employer, not the employee, therefore giving the employers control over the lives of the workers and their families.

The gross exploitation of immigrant workers is not only criminal but it also is a threat to the wages and conditions of all workers. The Socialist Party applauds the actions of bricklayers in Mayo and Mullingar who have supported Polish and Lithuanian strikers campaigning for better pay. United action by Irish and immigrant workers can force the employers to pay decent wages and will result in better pay and conditions for all.

Immigrant labour scandal

GAMA on the ropes

Councillor Mick Murphy

ON 4 March, the Turkish construction company, GAMA began a damage limitation exercise and announced it had under paid its workers and suspended some staff for allegedly making a mistake with the payroll. GAMA claims it has underpaid its Turkish workers based in Ireland by an average of 8% with some workers owed up to €3,500. The announcement was made in anticipation of a report due out within the next month or so from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE).

An investigation by Labour Inspectors from the Department was initiated into GAMA after the Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins announced in the Dáil on 8 February 2005 that the company pays its workers €2.20 per hour. Far from being an 8% underpayment, it would be more like a 700% shortfall. GAMA owes over 1,000 workers back money, which runs to millions of euro.

The Socialist Party has been distributing leaflets to the GAMA workers since January explaining what their pay and conditions should be under the Registered Employment Agreement (REA). As most of the GAMA’s contracts are projects for public bodies they are strictly contracted to pay the REA conditions.

Information received from the workers on different GAMA sites show that they work 60 to 90 hour weeks for gross pay of less than €1,000 per month. We have spoken to GAMA employees who work an average 84-hour week in the summer time. This is not only inhuman but illegal as well. Under the REA these workers would be receiving a substantial wage since GAMA claims publicly that no worker is paid less than €12.96 an hour.

This issue first surfaced last November when three Irish carpenters went on strike at the Balgaddy site in Lucan where GAMA are building 300 housing units for South Dublin County Council. During the course of this dispute, it became clear that all was not well with the pay and conditions of the Turkish workers who live on the site. Despite written assurances from the County Manager and GAMA, the Socialist Party decided to launch its own investigation into the conditions of the Turkish workers.

Some of these workers who speak English were approached when they were off the site but wouldn’t speak out of fear that the company might find out. We then decided to write them a letter in Turkish explaining the rates of pay that they should be receiving. They were given phone numbers to contact including that of a Turkish speaker.

The leaflets were got into the men by various means and following this information started to emerge. RTE was interested in this story and got some footage of interviews with the workers that showed hand written pay slips and explained how the system worked.

GAMA is the largest construction company in Turkey and operates in many other countries. It employs a total staff of around 10,000 workers. It specialises in power stations and is part owner of some of the private electricity generating stations it has built here. It has a long-term interest in this country and will not be able to just run away from this scandal.

The DETE has announced that it will not issue any new work permits to GAMA until the investigation is finished and no workers are to be moved while the investigation is ongoing. This is very important as the main threat the men live under is to be sent back to Turkey where there is 18% unemployment. As Joe Higgins said in the Dail these workers have been held in a form of bonded labour and have been exploited and ripped off to the tune of many millions of euro.

The type of gross exploitation of migrant workers that has emerged in the case of GAMA and by other employers as well, is not only wrong and criminal in itself, but also poses a threat to the rates of pay and working conditions of all workers. Many employers would like to start a race to the bottom regarding wages and workers’ rights. The trade unions have a crucial responsibility to take special measures to organise exploited workers and to take measures to get behind the fear and intimidation that keeps these workers silent about serious abuse of their rights.

Rampant exploitation

An investigation by the Irish Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment is underway following revelations that Polish workers employed on the state’s largest construction project, the Dublin Port Tunnel, are being paid 50% less than Irish workers on site.

Susan Fitzgerald

The Polish workers are being paid just over €8 per hour for a 58-hour week, half the industry’s basic rate. One worker on site who was afraid to give his name said "if you don’t sign you have 14 days and you go home. People don’t have a choice"

Along with not receiving the industry rate, the workers who are employed by Format Industrial Construction Ltd. receive none of the standard benefits and entitlements such as holiday pay, overtime, pensions etc.

The workers have said they are terrified to speak up in case they are sacked and sent back to Poland.

The highlighting of GAMA Construction and conditions on the Dublin Port Tunnel represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of exposing the rampant exploitation of many non national workers in the construction industry. Construction unions have been inundated with complaints and inquiries from workers from Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey and elsewhere.

An important development on these issues has been the solidarity shown by many Irish construction workers in support of their colleagues.

In Mullingar when twelve workers, ten Poles and two Lithuanians went on strike, the employer McCann & Son bussed in other workers to pass the picket and complete the project. Local bricklayers then turned out and matched the numbers on the picket line while also giving up a days pay to support the strikers who were receiving nothing.

In Mayo, bricklayers and union activists were appalled when they were approached by up to 60 Lithuanian bricklayers who were been paid as little as €105 per day for a seven day week, one local BATU activist who is supporting these workers said "because we were exploited in the past we should make sure that people who are coming here are not treated in the same way".

All the above articles are taken from the February edition of The Socialist, newspaper of the Socialist Party, cwi section in Ireland

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March 2005