€1m in damages to 20 workers over treatment while building section of M7
The High Court has awarded more than €1m in damages and interest to 20 Portuguese workers over their treatment while building a section of the M7 motorway ten years ago.
Ms Justice Carmel Stewart said they were "treated appallingly by their employers".
They had worked here for periods up to two years and it "beggars belief that their ordeal could have lasted for so long", she said.
The workers claimed they were underpaid while working for a Portuguese partnership contracted to construct a section of the motorway between Limerick and Nenagh.
They claimed deductions taken from their wages for accommodation and laundry were not reasonable or fair and their accommodation was not of a reasonable standard.
They further alleged their employers maintained fraudulent records of the hours they worked.
The award was against Portuguese based Rosas Construtores SA, Constructocoes Gabriel AS Couto SA, and Empresa Deconstrucoes Amandio Carvalho SA, all trading under the title RAC Contractors or RAC Eire Partnership.
The defendant was not represented in court and the claims were uncontested.
The judge said the workers who gave evidence were "decent hardworking individuals" who were "entirely blameless" in the events that unfolded since the contract was awarded to build the road in 2006.
They had come to Ireland to support themselves and their families, she said.
The Judge praised the work of the State authorities in their works to "regularise the defendant's enterprise," adding that "the defendants had fought them every step of the way."
Their working conditions were brought to light following investigations conducted by the National Employment Rights Authority.
The employer was found in breach of numerous employment regulations including the Organisation of Working Time Act. The workers had worked far in excess of what the defendant's worksheets had indicated, the judge said.
Evidence was given that the Portuguese workers lived in a cramped prefab building with between six to eight people per room.
The prefab, located at a rural townland outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was also a fire hazard, she said.
There was no drinkable water at the accommodation, the showers didn't work all the time, and there was a smell from where the waste water flowed.
"The washing facilities provided by the defendants were unfit for any living thing, least of all human beings," the Judge said.
The conditions resulted in the worker's health being affected, she said
She accepted the defendants had made "extortionate deductions from the worker's wages."
Those deductions supposedly went towards items including their food but which was insufficient to properly feed them and for their accommodation that was not fit for purpose, the Judge said.
In all the circumstances, the workers were entitled to damages of €818,000 between them.
When interest is added to that figure, it is expected that the final award will exceed €1m.
The matter will be mentioned before the court in the new year.