Ireland: Joe Higgins questions Irish Prime Minister on Gama Construction

Dáil Éireann, Leaders’ Questions, 12th April 2005

The following is an exchange in yesterday’s session of the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) between Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party member of Irish Parliament for Dublin West) and the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern over the fight by Turkish Gama Construction workers for unpaid wages. Joe also widened the issues at stake and asked Bertie Ahern, “How could such a vile machine of shocking exploitation be transferred intact from the Middle East by Gama to Irish sites and how could the company get away with this exploitation for four and a half years?”

Joe Higgins questions Irish Prime Minister on Gama Construction

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party): Were it not for the hard work of the Socialist Party in the Tallaght area and the opportunity afforded me by Independent Deputies to raise the position of the Gama workers, the company would not have been outed. How could such a vile machine of shocking exploitation be transferred intact from the Middle East by Gama to Irish sites and how could the company get away with this exploitation for four and a half years? It is inconceivable that prestigious projects, including two ESB power stations, could be constructed without senior personnel noticing that workers never got a single wage slip. If there is some excuse in regard to wages, the slave regime of 80 hours per week with no stop for rain and cold could not have been invisible. This is not even to raise the depraved morality of Irish professionals who continuously and at a significant price whited the sepulchre of Gama and the rottenness within that company.

This State is deeply shamed that fathers who came here to support their families, leaving spouses and young children behind, and brothers and sons who came to work for their families’ welfare should be most criminally abused, exploited and duped in the course of construction of the Celtic tiger infrastructure. I invite the Taoiseach to look members of the Turkish delegation in the public gallery in the eye when he gives his response and tell them that Irish people do not condone and are ashamed of the abuse they have suffered.

Last year alone, €9 million of workers’ wages was deposited secretly and duplicitously in Finansbank Holland – it may hold €30 million in workers’ funds in total. When I arrived unannounced at the bank with four ex-workers, we were supplied within 20 minutes with full statements detailing the moneys deposited in each worker’s account. These were the documents which had not been furnished to a single worker in the course of three years.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, has taken action in this matter and hopes to meet the workers tomorrow. Likewise, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has been helpful in accessing these documents. However, will the Taoiseach guarantee through the intervention of the State that by this weekend there will be a full statement for each worker in Gama so that next week they can sign the documents to allow them access their accounts and have the money sent to their families or otherwise dispose of it as they desire?

Séamus Healy (Independent): Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: I appreciate Deputy Higgins’s remarks about the work of both Ministers. It is the intention to get the statement as quickly as possible. However, I do not know if we will have it by this weekend. The Minister may have more information in this regard when he meets the workers tomorrow – he will meet Gama representatives later in the week.

Deputy Higgins asked me to address the Gama workers in the gallery. It is our intention to ensure that they receive their full rights and that Gama fully satisfies the obligations it owes to them. We are in direct contact in regard to securing the papers and believe we will receive full co-operation in this regard. The estimates of the departmental inspectors indicate the moneys involved may be even greater than the figures mentioned by the Deputy, although I cannot be certain about that. We will do everything we can to ensure the rights and money are secured and that we see this issue through.

I cannot answer the Deputy’s first question. When these issues were raised – as they were – assurances were made by Gama Construction, its auditors and legal advisers that workers were in receipt of proper pay rates. They were made not only to the secretariat or Government inspectorate but also to the CIF, SIPTU and BATU. Those assurances at that time were accepted but, as we found out, what was stated is not the case. The inspector’s report has shown this and the facts will be put forward as soon as possible, as soon as we can deal with the legal position.

J. Higgins: "As soon as possible" is not good enough. The men in question are destitute. They got paid a maximum of €250 in cash four weeks ago and they have to be given the bus fare to come into town. That is how desperate they are. This is an incredible scandal by any stretch of the imagination. It is simple to address this and I have made a proposal to the Minister in that regard. Executives of Finansbank Holland should come to Dublin with all the information so workers can have access to it. Alternatively, each worker could sign a statement – this could be done tonight – which I or another representative of the workers could take to Holland on Friday. The bank could then give us statements for the accounts, as authorised by the workers, and we could bring these back. The workers would then have a further document to sign and would get their money within ten days of it being submitted to the bank. That is what we need. I need that assurance for these workers by this weekend.

There are other issues.

An Ceann Comhairle [Dail Speaker]: The Deputy’s minute has concluded.

J. Higgins: Incredibly, some contract workers with Gama Construction were not the beneficiaries of Finansbank Holland. They worked an 84-hour week for €800 per month. There is nothing provided for them. We must find the funds for those workers and, as Deputy Rabbitte stated, we must find the wages for the 84-hour weeks that were stolen from them.

Gama Construction has still not supplied a legal payslip to any worker. The company must be banged around the place by the Government to ensure that it complies immediately with trade union rates of pay and conditions and respects human and workers’ rights. An end must be brought to this regime of exploitation and intimidation which has made the company a fortune, but at enormous—–

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should give way.

J. Higgins: —–human expense to its workers.

Finian McGrath (Independent): Hear, hear.

An Ceann Comhairle: Silence in the Visitors Gallery, please.

The Taoiseach: I have already said there is to be a meeting tomorrow with the workers. Deputy Joe Higgins said he will be attending. It is important that we try to resolve the issues at that meeting.

Our legal view is that the accounts belong to the workers and therefore there is no way the banking authorities can withhold them. Our officials have stated that position and we hope they ensure the issues are addressed as quickly as possible. I cannot guarantee that the bank will make the accounts available. However, they are the accounts of the workers and the same criteria apply to them as to anyone else’s account. If an account is one’s own, how can it be withheld? That is our legal view. We do not believe the banking authorities can withhold the accounts and I do not believe they will.

On all the other matters, the labour inspectors in this area have done a very good job.

J. Higgins: I agree.

The Taoiseach: I compliment them on their very comprehensive report. It contains very good recommendations, which the Minister fully accepts. We will work on this. The Minister announced today a substantial increase in the number of staff of the inspectorate. Following this matter, we need further people to work in other areas. The Minister has announced a 50% increase in staff, which will be very helpful in this regard.

On Deputy Joe Higgins’s point about the report, as soon as the High Court proceedings initiated thereon are dealt with, we can issue the full report.

Not only will the Minister meet the workers tomorrow but he will also meet Gama Construction before the weekend. On the basis of the Deputy having raised this issue and the work that has been done by the inspectorate, we should be in a position to ensure the workers’ rights are fully secured.

We did not discuss the issues raised by Deputies Rabbitte and Joe Higgins today. There is obviously a large number of questions associated with all the issues we have not discussed today and these must also be considered. I accept the issue at hand concerns trying to get the workers’ money and what they badly need as quickly as possible. All the other issues are addressed in the report and the Minister is fully involved in dealing with them.

Pictures of Gama workers protests outside the Dáil
Pictures of Gama workers protests outside the Dáil (part 2)


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April 2005