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Construction workers had to live in terrible conditions, court hears

20 workers allege they were underpaid while working for Portuguese companies hired to build a section of the N7.

Image: Shutterstock/Zolnierek

A CONSTRUCTION WORKER has told the High Court he and his colleagues lived in “terrible conditions” at a “work camp” provided by his former employers when they were building a section of the N7.

Armando Agostinho Alves Da Silva is one of 20 workers alleging they were underpaid while working for three Portuguese companies (called the RAC Eire Partnership) which were contracted to construct the section of motorway between Limerick and Nenagh in 2007 and 2008.

He said he and the others would start work at 7am and might not finish until 10 or 11pm.

Da Silva today told Ms Justice Carmel Stewart he and up to 90 other Portuguese workers lived in a prefab building, with between six and eight people per room.

The facility, which had been located at a rural townland outside Nenagh in Co Tipperary lacked basic facilities and was cramped, he claimed.

He said the water at the accommodation was not drinkable, the showers didn’t work all the time and there was a smell from where wastewater from the facility flowed.

“It was horrible,” he told his counsel David McGrath SC, adding that it took a long time for bags of rubbish from the facility to be collected.

Meals were only provided by his employer on days the men worked.

On days they did not work, such as Sundays, they had to fend for themselves despite the fact there were no cooking facilities in the building.

“If I had known It would be like this, I would never have come to Ireland.”

Da Silva said after a new company took over from his employer he moved into a house in the locality, got better money and worked shorter hours.

His and the other cases are the latest of a number of similar actions to come before the High Court. In 2016 the High Court awarded 27 others workers a total of €1.5 million.

All the proceedings are 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.

Health and safety issues

The court also heard evidence from consultant engineer Ronald Greene who said the men’s accommodation was “utterly substandard in every respect.” and that “prison facilities were of a superior standard”.

He said the facility, which has since been taken down, raised serious health and safety issues and lacked planning permission.

In their action the workers, who are represented by solicitor Tom O’Regan, are seeking damages for alleged breach of contract.

Despite working all the hours they were directed to under their contracts of employment, they claim their employers failed and refused to pay them for all the work they did.

They also claim that deductions taken by the employer from their wages for accommodation and laundry were not reasonable or fair and their accommodation was not of a reasonable standard.

They further allege their employers maintained fraudulent records of the hours they worked. The defendant partnership is not represented in court, and the cases are proceeding uncontested.

When the matter was called on before the High Court this morning, the court heard that a letter had been sent to the judge in charge of the chancery division asking it to appoint a solicitor to defend the actions.

Before assigning the case to be heard by Ms Justice Stewart, Ms Justice Caroline Costello said that assigning a solicitor was not something the High Court can do.

The cases continue.

Comments are closed due to ongoing legal proceedings.

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Aodhan O Faolain

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