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Forced labour 'alive and well in Ireland'

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout is calling on the Government to legislate against forced labour, saying that 160 cases have been documented in Ireland since 2006.

Muhammad Younis
Muhammad Younis
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

FORCED LABOUR IS alive and well in Ireland, Senator Jillian Van Turnhout has said, while calling on the Government to legislate against it.

Speaking to the Seanad on the issue recently, she said that the example of the exploitation of Muhammad Younis clearly showed that forced labour is alive and well in this country.

There have been 179 cases of forced labour in Ireland over the last six years, and this number is rising, according to the Migrant Rights Centre.

But she noted that “our laws, albeit unintentionally, protect the perpetrators”. Senator Van Turnhout noted that in law, the High Court was correct to overturn the Labour Court’s determination to award over €90,000 to Mr Younis, who had to work 77 hours a week, as set out in Section 2 of the Employment Permits Act 2003, as he did not have a valid and legal work permit and “as such cannot benefit from relief in respect of an employment contract”.

Senator Van Turnhout described this as “correct in law” but “not just and right”. She said that a Bill put forward by Senator Fergal Quinn would plug this legislative gap.

Exploited workers

The Senator said that at present the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has 30 cases of exploited workers in precarious situations with work permits at various stages before the Labour Relations Commission.

The Senator has called on Minister Shatter to either legislate against forced labour as a stand-alone offence, or amend the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 to define force labour.

I do not believe the current legislative protections, afforded through ordinary criminal offences such as false imprisonment, blackmail, assault, coercion, or indeed through Immigration or Health and Safety Law, are appropriate or sufficient given the profile of the victims and the likelihood that they will have neither the knowledge of nor the confidence to evoke these protections.

She said that a stand-alone law or a clearly defined provision on forced labour in existing legislation “would give victims confidence and act as a deterrent to their exploiters, which is increasingly necessary with anecdotal evidence suggesting that the recession is leading to greater recourse to very cheap/free labour by unscrupulous employers”.

She also called for Minister Shatter to publish the International Labour Organisation’s report on criminalising forced labour in Ireland and publish the Department of Justice and Equality report on whether or not the Criminal Law (Human Traffickign) Act 20088 is sufficient to criminalise forced labour.

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