Ireland should join the EU Employers Sanctions' Directive, which stops employers recruiting and ill-treating migrant workers, according to a report published this morning.

'Migrant Key Workers and Social Cohesion in Europe' was compiled by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies and the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change.

The organisations investigated working and living conditions of migrants employed in the agricultural and care sectors in Germany, Greece, Ireland and Spain over two years.

The report outlines the impact of working conditions on migrants' daily lives and on their capability to partake in community life and to what extent improper legislation hinders rather than facilitates migrants’ inclusion.

'Migrant Key Workers and Social Cohesion in Europe' says migrants employed in agriculture and care in Germany, Greece, Ireland and Spain, are subject to "multiple and intersecting forms of disadvantage".

Research found migrant workers in Spain and Ireland are living in overcrowded conditions and this is "compounding the already strenuous and low pay conditions" in the agriculture and care sectors.

The research involved interviews with migrants about their experience of working and living conditions; access to services; knowledge of social rights and opportunities to form social networks and engage with community and civil society.

Interviews with NGOs and trade unions addressed their work and engagement with migrant workers including insights into working and living conditions.

The impact of Covid-19 on the health, work and social engagement opportunities of migrant care workers, including how these were shaped by support from NGOs, trade unions, and public authorities was also explored.

Migrants an important component of agriculture

Statistical data on migrant workers in the agricultural sector is difficult to come by (Stock image)

The report says migrants have been an important long-term component of the agricultural labour force in Ireland and adds that in the desire to decrease labour costs, "the sector has exploited workers" from Romania, Bulgaria, and Brazil for decades.

While it notes that statistical data on migrant workers in the agricultural sector is difficult to come by, broadly, the Irish sector employs 164,400 people, of which an estimated 60% are migrants.

Central Africa, Brazil, the Balkans, Poland, Ukraine and India are the largest points of origin for migrants entering Ireland. Horticultural firms increasingly source labour from the European Economic Arena (EEA) and beyond.

Giving an insight into working conditions, an NGO which provides free and accessible social services to migrant workers, Gort Resource Centre described to the researchers how workers are frequently hired on the day they are needed, with no contract.

The centre added that migrant workers are often driven to their workplace with no prior knowledge of its location, working excessively long hours and being paid cash at the end of the day, which amounts to less than the minimum wage.

The report says that these jobs are a last resort for survival for migrants, with few employment options and who cannot access a PPS number or receive document status.

"This vulnerability leaves them susceptible to abuse and maltreatment by farmers and their employers," it says.

It states that migrant workers employed in the Irish meat packing industry "face abusive and exploitative working conditions".

"They are subject to 'dirty, difficult, and dangerous work' and employers practice 'poor safety and health protocols' and show 'cavalier disregard' for workers," according to the report.

Growing care needs

The four countries examined in 'Migrant Key Workers and Social Cohesion in Europe' all have ageing populations with growing care needs.

While Ireland currently has the youngest population of the four, its old-age dependency ratio is projected to grow from 22 to 42 between 2020 and 2050.

In other words, the ratio of Irish people aged 65 and above to those aged 15-64 will nearly double.

The report says that much of Ireland's public care service provision operates through private service providers, "which, by some accounts, affords the state increased flexibility in terms of controlling its care provision costs".

Migrant women work in elderly care due to the ease of acquiring qualifications (Stock image)

It says the high cost of private care and long waiting times for limited and publicly funded home care have contributed to "increased demand for affordable private home care" and it notes that 34.5% of care workers in Ireland are employed in home care.

"This figure is likely to underestimate the number of informal carers, many of whom are migrants not officially 'employed’ as carers," it says.

An estimated 22% of carers working in households or in residential care facilities were born outside Ireland.

It says migrant women work in elderly care due to the ease of acquiring the Healthcare Assistant qualification (QQI Level 5) and finding jobs through social networks.

Migrants, who are mostly women, it says work in both residential and home care - although it acknowledges, there is very little data to confirm this.

The report points out that until recently, the Irish Government "has only allowed very limited recruitment of trained care workers from outside the EEA to meet the growing labour needs of the care sector" and a consequence is that Irish families rely on the services of migrant home care workers employed on an informal basis.

It says as that as with informal care, the working arrangements, already typically for "unsocial" hours, may be difficult for migrant workers, who hesitate to complain because they fear losing their employment.

Care workers have been one of the most vulnerable groups in the workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a high frequency and level of contact with infected populations in hospitals and nursing homes, according to the report.

It explains how community hospitals, nursing homes, residential institutions and childcare facilities in Ireland have had some of the highest frequencies of Covid-19 outbreaks, including 21 outbreaks of infection in Direct Provision Centres.

Negative impact of weak representation

The report highlights the negative impact of weak union representation on access to sick pay and adequate oversight of health and safety.

However, it also says that the shared concerns and collaboration between labour unions, civil society organisations representing migrant communities, and migrant workers have provided increasing opportunities for "social cohesion and social solidarity".

Low paid, vulnerable workers have been situated within an established network of advocacy and representation to policymakers and organisations like the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland have been voicing their concerns to the Government, the report adds.

The report recommends that Ireland should join the Employers Sanctions’ Directive, which stops employers recruiting and ill-treating migrant workers.

The aim of the directive is to encourage member states to grant temporary residence permits to undocumented workers who cooperate with governments in holding abusive employers to account and ensure that governments inform employers of their duty to pay "outstanding remuneration, taxes and social security contributions to migrant workers in an irregular situation."

A second recommendation for Ireland is that the National Action Plan Against Racism and the process of implementation include work-based discrimination.

It says this is especially relevant to employees who are vulnerable to exploitation and racism because of their visa status and the nature of their job.

It also says Ireland needs to continue to push for the implementation and evaluation of integration strategies at a local level.