Thousands of past and present employees of construction giant Gama are set to reclaim millions in lost wages after previously unknown accounts were yesterday discovered in Holland.
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. Socialist Party councillor Mick Murphy revealed that some of the construction workers got paid as little as €2.20 an hour. Gama management claimed it had deposited the rest of the workers wages in accounts in a Dutch-based Finansbank. To test the truth of Gama’s claim Joe Higgins, Mick Murphy and four former employees of Gama turned up before the bank in Amsterdam demanding that these workers be given access to these accounts. Socialistworld.net is republishing three articles from the Irish Examiner.
Workers set to reclaim millions in lost pay
The accounts – amounting to a possible €40 million in workers’ money – were first set up in Dutch-based Finansbank in 2002 by Gama, the firm accused by Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins of stealing millions through underpaying migrant workers.
Although Gama claims all workers signed documents authorising the creation of the accounts, employees insist they were only shown forms in English which they did not understand.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday, Gama’s account manager at Finansbank, Hakan Tezel, said all workers were entitled to claim their money.
Brought to Holland by Mr Higgins yesterday, four former Gama workers were told by Finansbank that they were entitled to between €4,000 and €23,000 each.
The bank said it had no idea that workers were not aware of their accounts.
“The only thing I can say is that the people should be taking care of the decisions they are signing,” Mr Tezel said.
However, Mr Tezel confirmed no statements had ever been sent to workers. He also conceded it was “unusual” that none of the thousands of Gama’s employees had ever contacted the bank in relation to their accounts.
In addition, it emerged yesterday that workers’ wages were transferred from Finansbank to a third mystery firm called Ryder Investments.
Finansbank refused to reveal where Ryder Investments is based or who controls the firm.
It is unclear who benefits from any return on investments the firm may be making with workers’ money.
Mr Higgins last night said he was pleased to have uncovered employees’ money but warned there were numerous other unresolved issues.
“We have uncovered some of the money owed and that’s very significant but the question of thousands of hours of unpaid labour and other issues still remain,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Government report into the allegations against Gama is due to be published early next week.
As first revealed in the Irish Examiner last month, the report fails to clear the company and calls for further investigations.
It is understood Enterprise Minister Mícheál Martin, who has already suspended issuing work permits to Gama, will be asked to sanction further probes by the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Revenue Commissioners.
Yesterday’s revelations are expected to form part of those inquiries.
Gama, which employs up to 800 migrant workers in Ireland, is involved in numerous State infrastructural projects.
Editorial – Irish Examiner
Gama workers – Exploitation must not be tolerated
The saga of how Turkish contractor Gama has operated since it arrived in this country continued to confound yesterday with the uncovering of a massive workers’ fund controlled by the company.
By any standards, what Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins discovered in Amsterdam was extraordinary and, in the manner in which money belonging to the workers was kept secret, was inexplicable.
The company can claim that the money handled by Finance Bank Holland, amounting to between €20 million and €40m, was held in the name of the workers.
The fact that they were totally unaware of the existence of such accounts, and the fact that the money was transferred into another covert account in a company called Ryder Investments, about which nothing is known, meant, de facto, the workers were prevented from enjoying the benefit of their own funds.
They certainly did not have access to it and while Gama can claim to have observed its legal obligations, it did so superficially.
The extent of the company’s surreptitious manoeuvre can be gauged, firstly by the huge amount of money involved, and secondly, that it affected 2,000 workers.
Given that they have been the key to the company’s very successful operations in this country since 2000, they have been very shabbily treated.
An investigation by labour inspectors from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, produced rather an equivocal report. While it failed to find evidence to substantiate the allegations, it did not exonerate the company entirely.
In its comparatively brief existence here, its performance has been remarkable, to the extent that it has confounded competitors by its ability to win contracts, many of them Government ones.
It won the contracts for the Ballincollig and Ennis bypasses by being able to under-bid to the tune of €15m and €5m respectively.
Since Gama became embroiled in this controversy, and on foot of the labour directorate’s investigation, Enterprise, Trade and Employment Míchéal Martin Minister stopped issuing work permits to the company.
It was pressured into admitting it paid hundreds of Turkish workers 8% less than the construction industry’s registered agreement rate.
The demeanour of the company towards its workforce, the exploitation it has subjected them to and its failure to issue satisfactory payslips, should result in its exclusion from any further Government contracts.
In any case, should the minister decide to act on some of the recommendations contained in the report which he has received, it would make it virtually impossible for the company to continue to operate here.
Mr Higgins used his Dáil privilege recently to allege that in relation to Gama “we have a master fraud, grand larceny of workers wages”, and he has persisted in the pursuit of the workers’ cause.
As a result of his persistence they would now appear to be in a position to lay claim to their own money, funds they were deprived of, no matter how the company might seek to defend themselves.
The Government must insist on the adherence to the highest standards in this country and no infringement of workers’ rights can be tolerated.
Turkish construction firm Gama has some explaining to do after the discovery of bank accounts in the names of migrant workers, writes political reporter Michael O’Farrell in Amsterdam.
When Turkish construction worker Metin Kaplan left Dublin for the Netherlands yesterday, he had to rely on charity to cover the price of his flight.
But within two hours of landing, Kaplan and his fellow workers each had enough to buy an entire house back in their homeland.
Metin and his colleagues – Ramazan Ataly, Alisan Urcan and Zafer Kaplan – are all former employees of Turkish construction giant Gama, the firm accused by Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins of stealing millions from workers through underpayments.
But like all Gama’s 800 migrant workers in Ireland, Metin was, until yesterday, completely unaware that an account in his name had been opened in a Dutch based Turkish bank called Finansbank.
And they might never have found out were it not for the fact that the Government launched a Labour Inspectorate investigation into Gama following Mr. Higgins’s sensational Dail allegations.
That investigation, due to be published next week, expressed concern that workers were coached to tell inspectors that their missing wages were being sent to the Netherlands.
Prior to that Gama workers had never heard of Finansbank and were certainly unaware that accounts in their name had been opened there.
So in an audacious move designed to test the truth of Gama’s claim, Mr Higgins yesterday turned up before stunned bank officials in Amsterdam demanding that Metin and his colleagues be given access to their accounts.
And in a spectacular twist to the continuing Gama saga, the mamager of Gama’s corporate account, Hakan Tezel, calmly announced to the stunned group that in fact Gama had paid in monthly sums to worker’s accounts throughout their time of employment.
In an instant, Metin became E23,922 richer, having worked for Gama for 17 months. But Gama had never told him about his account, not even when he ceased working for them on March 5 this year.
Likewise Zafer, who left Gama seven months ago after a years work, suddenly found himself with E13,588. Ailsan, who left Gama last year, had E10,282 on account with Finansbank while Ramazan, who put in five months before leaving Gama last month, had E4,533 in his name.
But as Mr Tezel fielded questions about Gama’s business with Finansbank yesterday, his responses raised far more questions than they answered.
Mr Tezel confirmed that Gama had put the accounts arrangements in place for all its Irish workers in 2002. Although he refused to give out any figures, there may be up to 2,000 accounts containing money belonging to past and present workers who know absolutely nothing about it.
Based on the amounts discovered yesterday, the sum of workers’ money held here unknown to employees could be anywhere between E20 million and E40 million and upwards.
The bank defended the existence of the accounts, pointing out that the workers had themselves signed documents giving Gama permission to open them.
But numerous workers, including those present yesterday, told government inspectors that the documents were thrust in front of them to sign without reading before they boarded their flight to come to Ireland.
Furthermore, the authorisation documents are in English, a language most of Gama’s workers don’t understand. In a further twist, Mr Tezel revealed that instead of holding the money itself, the Gama arrangement stipulates that lodgements be immediately transferred to a third company called Ryder Investments.
The bank yesterday refused to divulge any details of where Ryder Investments is based or who controls the company.
But the mysterious existence of tens of millions of employee’s money in an investment company no one had previously heard of will no doubt feature in any further investigations into Gama once the government’s report is made public next week.
In the meantime, Gama and Finansbank have more explaining to do.
Gama last night released a statement saying that all employees were informed of their bank accounts and had signed the necessary papers to open them.
Finansbank meanwhile told the Irish Examiner that opening accounts through documentation alone without face-to-face contact with customers was unusual.
Nevertheless, Mr Tezel said the mechanism had been put in place at the request of Gama to overcome the difficulties involved in transporting large numbers of workers to Holland to open accounts.
Mr Tezel also told the Irish Examiner that no statements had ever been sent to workers since the accounts were first opened in 2002 to update them on the status of their money.
In addition, Mr Tezel confirmed that not one single worker had ever contacted the bank in relation to any matter concerning their Gama accounts – a fact that places considerable doubt over Gama’s claim that workers knew of their existence.