Thousands of workers 'imported' despite job crisis
Published 12/10/2010 | 05:00
EMPLOYERS are importing thousands of workers for ordinary jobs from outside the EU, despite record unemployment levels here.
The number of non-EU workers being hired has surged to more than 6,600 so far this year, new figures show.
Workers from outside Ireland and the EU are being hired for jobs on farms, in hotels, restaurants, bars, nursing homes, takeaways, insurance companies, pharmacies and leisure centres.
A large number of the workers are also employed in nursing homes, with permits also issued for workers in guesthouses.
The surge in numbers comes despite rules that insist companies can only hire overseas if they can't get the staff at home or in the EU. The number of people signing on the dole here is just under 450,000.
The figures will raise serious questions about why companies are so desperate for foreign workers -- and whether it is because they are often cheaper and non-unionised.
There are also restrictions on hiring lower-paid workers. But they do not seem to be preventing employers hiring staff in industries where wages are relatively low.
This time last year, only 5,822 work permits had been issued for the first time or renewed, but by September this year, the figure had risen to 6,621, a 14pc increase.
While the numbers are well down on the Celtic Tiger era, in one month alone this year the number of permits granted almost touched 1,200.
In recent years, Irish workers have been rejecting the lowest-paid jobs, although this may change as the labour market continues to worsen.
The rules from the Department of Enterprise are very blunt: permits can only be granted when an employer has "made every effort to recruit an Irish or European Economic Area national for the post".
Recruitment specialists said yesterday that specific language skills were needed for some of the roles, and these were not available in Ireland or the EU.
But they could not explain the large number of overseas workers needed in areas like catering, education, agriculture/fisheries and various service industries.
The Department of Enterprise figures showed that while healthcare and medicine were key areas for recruiting foreign workers, service industries, which cover everything from hairdressing to insurance, also appeared central to the high demand.
For example, in June 1,194 permits were issued, with the largest demand coming from services industries, considerably ahead of healthcare.
The geographical background of those getting permits was highly concentrated, with Indians awarded 1,780 permits, followed by citizens of the Philippines with 1,101 permits and China with 288 permits.
Those awarded permits can only work for the employer sponsoring them initially, but there are ways to change to another employer later on.
The original application can be made by the employee or the employer.
The system was established under the Employment Permits Act of 2003 and 2006.
There have been complaints in recent months by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) that some unnamed employers were exploiting workers.
The Minister of State in charge of labour affairs, Dara Calleary, recently condemned "any practices by employers that may result in non-compliance with employment rights, entitlements or any other mistreatment of employees".
Mr Calleary pointed out that those employers who contravene employment permits legislation may be liable for fines ranging from €5,000 up to €50,000.