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700 Romanians a week are exploiting permit loophole

MORE than 700 Romanians are arriving here every week to exploit a legal loophole which allows them to work, new figures reveal.

MORE than 700 Romanians are arriving here every week to exploit a legal loophole which allows them to work, despite the Government's decision to restrict their permits.

A total of 4,409 PPS numbers have been issued to Romanians since the beginning of the year.

This is 25pc more than the total number of Romanians who were issued with PPS numbers for the whole of last year.

The Government had expected work permits' restriction to limit the number of Romanians arriving here.

But they are able to get work by presenting themselves to Irish employers as self-employed sub-contractors - and at much cheaper rates than Irish workers.

Union leaders last night urged the Government to clamp down on rogue employers who are exploiting the loophole to slash wage costs.

They raised concerns that employers may be getting around the work permit restriction by falsely claiming their Romanian workers are self-employed.

SIPTU president Jack O'Connor said that while it was too early to have evidence of the practice, people could draw their own conclusions about what was happening.

He said the Government had made "virtually no progress" in implementing the labour protection measures in the Towards 2016 social partnership agreement it signed last year.

"There's no evidence of Revenue activity to stop bogus self-employment; no evidence of any commitment to effectively regulate employment agencies; and no evidence of using public procurement of goods and services to uphold employment standards," he told the Irish Independent.He said he has written to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Finance Minister Brian Cowen to express his union's dissatisfaction.

"Those three areas are key to whether or not we can have any kind of effective employment mechanisms. The potential is there for vulnerable people to be exploited - there's no doubt about it."

Both Romanian and Bulgarian workers have freedom of movement in the EU since their countries joined on January 1 last.

However, just 176 Bulgarian workers were issued with PPS numbers. In contrast, the 4,409 PPS numbers issued to Romanians are already 25pc higher than last year's total.

Although it is less than the 8,827 PPS numbers issued to Polish workers this year, it is still more than the entire total issued to the 10 other EU accession countries combined.

The issue of enforcing the restrictions on workers from the two new member states is expected to play a part in the general election.

Both Sinn Fein and the Green Party have a policy of lifting the restriction, while Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats support it.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland is also launching its election manifesto today, in which it calls for better data and research on migration, as well as a long-term immigration strategy.

The overall tally for PPS numbers allocated to workers from former EU accession states since May 2004 is now more than 326,000.

Michael Brennan