The High Court has awarded more than €1 million in damages and interest to a group of Portuguese workers who claimed they lived in "terrible conditions" at a "work camp" provided by their former employers when they were building a section of the N7 motorway in 2007 and 2008.

The award was made by Ms Justice Carmel Stewart who said the workers were "treated appallingly by their employers".

Noting that the workers had been working in Ireland for periods up to two years the Judge said that, "It beggars belief that their ordeal could have lasted for so long".

The 20 workers claimed they were underpaid while working for three Portuguese companies, called the RAC Eire Partnership, that were contracted to construct the section of motorway between Limerick and Nenagh. 

A number of related cases taken by others who worked on the road project have previously been before the courts.

The judge found the workers, who are represented by David McGrath SC instructed by solicitor Tom O'Regan, are entitled to damages for breach of contract.

They had also claimed that deductions were taken by the employer from their wages for accommodation and laundry were not reasonable or fair and their accommodation was not of a reasonable standard. 

They further alleged their employers maintained fraudulent records of the hours they worked.

The award was made against Portuguese based Rosas Construtores SA, Constructocoes Gabriel AS Couto SA, and Empresa Deconstrucoes Amandio Carvalho SA all trading under the title RAC Contractors or RAC Eire Partnership. 

The defendant partnership was not represented in court, and the claims were uncontested.

In her decision, the judge said the workers who gave evidence before the court were "decent hardworking individuals" who were "entirely blameless" in the events that unfolded since the contract was awarded to build the road in 2006. 

Their working conditions were brought to light following investigations conducted by the National Employment Rights Authority, the Judge said. 

Ms Justice Stewart said evidence was given that the Portuguese workers lived in a cramped prefab building where there between six to eight people per room.

The facility, which had been located at a rural townland outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary was also a fire hazard, she said.

In all the circumstances the Judge said the workers in these cases were entitled to damages of €818,000 between them. 

However, the court will make a final award when interest is added to that figure. It is expected that the final award will exceed €1m. 

The matter will be mentioned before the court in the New Year.