Sunday 23 October 2016

Court clears way for 491 Turkish employees to claim €40.3m compensation from Irish company

Tim Healy

Published 31/07/2015 | 17:55

Court clears way for 491 Turkish employees to claim €40.3m compensation from Irish company
Court clears way for 491 Turkish employees to claim €40.3m compensation from Irish company

A COURT has cleared the way for 491 Turkish construction workers to bring actions in Ireland rather than Turkey over alleged underpayment of wages.

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It is claimed their employers owe them some €40.3 million compensation, including for wages and benefits, while they were working here on State contracts.

A three-judge Court of Appeal rejected appeals by Gama Endustari Tesisleri Imalat Montaj AS (Gama Turkey) and its wholly owned Irish company, Gama Construction Ireland Ltd, against two High Court decisions permitting the Irish courts hear the workers' action against both companies. 

The workers are claiming some €40.3 million compensation and damages for alleged breach of contract and breach of duty.

The cases arise as a result of the involvement from 2000 of both Gama companies in National Development Programme infrastructural works here.

Gama employed 1,066 people here in 2003 and in 2005, when a dispute over wages broke out, had 927 permits for workers from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

In February 2005, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins told the Dail Gama "imports" workers from Turkey and paid them around €2-€3 per hour in breach of the minimum wage law.

The workers were required to work "grotesque" hours, accommodated in company barracks and their situation was a modern version of "bonded labour", he alleged.

The Minister for Enterprise, who said his Department was given assurances from Gama Ireland all provisions of Irish employment law would be observed, ordered its labour inspectorate to investigate the claims.

Gama Turkey later sought an undertaking that inspector's report would not be published.

When that was not given, it took legal proceedings and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2009 there were no powers of general publication of the report and only State bodies with a criminal prosecutorial function could see it.

Both Gama defendant companies had entered conditional appearances in the workers' proceedings for the sole purpose of contesting the jurisdiction of the Irish courts to hear the action.

The High Court ruled the workers had established the appropriate forum for the hearing of the proceedings is Ireland, not Turkey.

An appeal by the companies was rejected Friday (July 31) by the Court of Appeal which upheld the High Court finding.

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