No reason why the government cannot address the migrant pay 

Last week, the ESRI released its study on the migrant pay gap in Ireland – Wages and Working Conditions of non-Irish nationals in Ireland.  All too predictably, the report confirmed that, between 2011 and 2018, non-Irish nationals earned, on average, 22 percent less per hour than Irish nationals – for every €1 an Irish worker earned, a non-Irish worker earned 78 cents. 

Responding to this Report, John Regan, SIPTU and Chairperson of the Meath Council of Trade Unions, stated that “A big part of the problem is the employment permit system. This needs a drastic overhaul so that the system works for non-EU migrants. Right now, it is s overly restrictive and effectively ties workers to their employer”. 

In the last 18 months, the government has extended general employment permits to care and homecare workers, meat workers, construction workers, healthcare assistants, haulage drivers, dairy workers, and bus and coach drivers. 

Regan continued, “We all know how valuable these front-line workers were during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these same workers cannot freely change employer, and this often leads to exploitation, low pay, and substandard working conditions. This can be addressed if workers are able to change employer while retaining their permit”.  

Marcos is one of hundreds of Brazilians working in meat processing in County Meath. His experience is widespread: “When we complain about pay or the work conditions, the boss tells you that if you don’t like it, you can go back to your country. He knows we can’t just leave and just go somewhere else. I want to change to another company but it’s too difficult.  I would need to apply for a whole new work permit which costs a lot of money, takes time, and will put my immigration status at risk.”   

Other EU countries such as Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and Germany give non-EU workers the right to change employer easily while staying on their employment permit. 

John Regan concluded that “there is no reason why the Irish government cannot introduce the same model. This would go a long way to reducing the migrant pay gap”.

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