Ireland: Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MP fights for “real people”

Talk to Joe. Officially, he isn’t in charge, but he gets things done.

Reproduced below is an article from the Irish Independent from Wednesday 13 April outlining the excellent role played by Joe Higgins in the Daíl (Parliament) as a representative of working class people fighting for their rights.

Following this is the latest press release of the Turkish Workers Action Group which explains that Gama Construction has been forced to start sending bank statements of the concealed bank accounts in the Netherlands held in the name of Gama employees to these workers.

Wherever you go, talk to Joe; he gets things done and he runs the show . . . even on national radio

Bertie and his ministers might at least have the decency to be embarrassed about this state of affairs. But it doesn’t seem to trouble them too much.

Yesterday in the Dail chamber, the Taoiseach may have been in the seat of power, but without a doubt, the show belonged to Joe.

Or a duo of Joes, to be precise. Messrs Duffy and Higgins.

It was rotten round of Leaders’ Questions for Taoiseach Ahern. First, he was clobbered around the ears by Enda Kenny over the disgraceful state of our Accident and Emergency wards. It wasn’t long before Bertie resembled many of the unfortunates currently laid up in awful conditions in the nation’s overcrowded casualty units. Without a leg to stand on.

The Fianna Fail leader must have known what he was in for. A couple of hours earlier, angry relatives of A&E patients jammed Joe Duffy’s Liveline radio show with alarming eye-witness accounts of the undignified shambles that passes for our emergency rooms. Again.

Then, to pile woe upon woe, Hero of the Hour Joe Higgins, followed through with another punishing barrage, highlighting the unfair treatment of migrant Turkish workers employed to toil on major public construction projects here.

The plight of these men, recruited by international firm GAMA, is truly shameful. Allegedly forced to work over 80-hours a week for far less wages than their Irish and EU counterparts, their situation has been doggedly championed in the Dail by Socialist Party man Higgins.

In these marvellous days of plenty, Mr Higgins has been tenacious in raising the issue of the exploitation of migrant workers, shining a light into an aspect of Ireland’s new found prosperity, pointing up an uncaring and unsavoury greed in some quarters.

Yesterday afternoon, to drive home his point, Joe brought a large delegation of these Turkish workers into the Dail.

Embarrassing stuff, for Bertie and his Government, when things have never been better and we’re the envy of the free world.

The Turkish men watched proceedings with interest. Most do not speak English, so they will not have understood Taoiseach Ahern’s explanation for the A&E crisis. Just the usual crisis, the one we’ve had for years.

"A&E facilities, for some reason or another, are not up to scratch," declared Bertie with devastating insight.

And he waffled on about consultants and stuff, before concluding limply: "So these are just some of the issues". Which haven’t changed since the last time he mentioned them.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he wanted the Taoiseach to explain why businessmen were now ringing up Joe Duffy’s show and offering to buy prefab units to give to hospitals.

Speaking of acute overcrowding, there were more Turks in the chamber yesterday than TDs.

Pat Rabbitte first raised the situation of the GAMA workers, graciously crediting Joe Higgins, who brought the scandal to light. Not only were they underpaid, but the company had allegedly siphoned off some of their wages into bank accounts in Holland. The men didn’t know about this.

Then it was Joe’s turn. Earlier, he had been feted outside the Dail by the workers, who carried him shoulder high from Kildare Street, playing Turkish music as they went. Inside, the men listened to Joe as he passionately outlined their circumstances to the Taoiseach and called on the Taoiseach to look the Turkish workers "in the eye" and assure them the Irish people do not condone such employment practices.

The Taoiseach said the report confirmed what Mr Higgins had uncovered, and he feared that there was even more money than originally thought in the Dutch bank accounts. Everything possible was being done to secure the workers their rights and their proper money.

But, unusually for Bertie, he didn’t look the Turkish men in the eye and speak to them directly. He didn’t look up at all, even though Joe Higgins had accepted Bertie’s bona fides on the matter. Perhaps he was too embarrassed.

This was a good day for the Dail yesterday – if not for the Taoiseach and his government. Thanks to Joe Higgins, there was the rare sight of real people, in real trouble, beginning to get their problems sorted out by the national parliament.

Perhaps the Opposition should start wheeling in those trollies . . .

Press release from the Turkish Workers Action Group

GAMA workers receive statements of accounts from Finansbank Holland

GAMA workers who have been on a work stoppage for the past two and a half weeks have begun to receive statements of their accounts from Finansbank Holland.

The workers only became aware of these accounts a number of weeks ago when Joe Higgins T.D. and four ex- GAMA employees travelled to Amsterdam to find out if such accounts existed. GAMA had been secretly putting funds into these accounts, which amounted to the difference between their exploitation wages and the trade union rate for a 48-hour week, in an attempt to cover themselves in the event of an investigation.

Workers will now wait and see whether their funds are transferred to their personal and family accounts.

GAMA workers are to protest outside Lanesboro ESB power station tomorrow, Thursday, to mark its official opening. This was built by GAMA’s workforce at exploitative pay rates and a shocking working week of over 80 hours per week for most workers. The GAMA workers’ committee and the unions have a meeting with GAMA management tomorrow, Thursday, at 2.30 pm in Liberty Hall. This is a vital meeting.

Critical issues that will be put forward by the workers’ committee will be the payment to workers who are on a fixed wage of €800 per month for the 80 hour week, but who have no funds in Holland, at the same rate as those who are covered by the registered employment agreement. Also, the issue of the massive number of overtime hours worked and not paid for will be crucial. These and the critical issue of GAMA complying with trade union rates of pay and conditions, and verifiably so, will dominate the situation concerning GAMA over the next week.

Please note: language problems make it impossible to give a contact person for the TWAG. However, Joe Higgins T.D. or Councillor Mick Murphy will confirm the information in this statement.

Joe Higgins, Tel: (01) 618 3038 Cllr. Mick Murphy, Tel: 086 9683814

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April 2005