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«CISC Working Paper No. 22 December 2005 Labour Relations Practices and Migrant Workers in Ireland Maria-Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez1 Terrence McDonough2 ...»

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CISC Working Paper No. 22 December 2005

Labour Relations Practices and Migrant Workers in Ireland

Maria-Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez1

Terrence McDonough2

Tony Dundon3

Centre for Innovation & Structural Change, National University of Ireland, Galway,

Ireland. magonzalez@nuigalway.ie

Centre for Innovation & Structural Change, National University of Ireland, Galway,

Ireland. Terrence.mcdonough@nuigalway.ie

Centre for Innovation & Structural Change, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland. Tony.dundon@@nuigalway.ie

ABSTRACT:

The growth of global economic activity has resulted in a world-wide increase in migration. This economic expansion has been welcome but at the same time has brought new challenges. Ireland, once regarded as a country of emigration, is now an economy dependent on the labour of non-Irish workers. In 2003 over 47,000 work permits were issued. In comparative terms, Ireland’s current rate of immigration per capita is double that of the United States. Yet, there are two contrasting images of non-national workers in Ireland. On the one hand, nonIrish national workers are viewed as a source of cheap labour, easily disposable and found in the tertiary labour market. On the other hand there exists the image of such workers as highly skilled and central to Ireland’s economic boom of recent years. Despite conflicting media reports, there remains little detailed research on labour relations practices as experienced by non-Irish workers.

The main aims of the research were to subject Irish labour immigration policy to critical scrutiny, and to assess the extent to which employers and unions may facilitate the integration of non-Irish workers into the labour market. The research methodologies were principally ethnographic, including both participant and non-participant observations, interviews with key informant groups (unions, immigration policy experts, employers and managers, and nonIrish workers) as well analysis of documentary sources (such as union policies, state agency and chambers of commerce literature).

The findings show a significant lack of labour market integration and employment exploitation for non-Irish workers. The main explanatory factors include an explicit abuse of employer power coupled with a restrictive legal work permit system. Moreover, the Irish labour market conjurers up not an image of a booming Celtic Tiger economy, but rather a reality of near-serfdom and social and economic exclusion. Trade union organising capacity is found to be limited to areas of social justice, owing to state legislation and employer power. In the light of these findings, it is argued that the case for greater labour market integration and equality cannot rely on voluntarist employer interventions. To do so means profitability and product market contingencies override other social and economic needs. Social justice is itself a valuable objective, irrespective of short-term business demands.

KEYWORDS:

Migrant Workers, Ireland, Labour Relations, Immigration Policy.

1. Introduction The growth of global economic activity has resulted in a world-wide increase in migration. This economic expansion has been welcome but at the same time has brought new challenges. Ireland, once regarded as a country of emigration, is now an economy dependent on the labour of non-Irish workers. In comparative terms, Ireland’s current rate of immigration per capita is double that of the United States.

Yet, there are two contrasting images of non-national workers in Ireland. On the one hand, non-Irish national workers are viewed as a source of cheap labour, easily disposable and found in the tertiary labour market. On the other hand there exists the image of such workers as highly skilled and central to Ireland’s economic boom of recent years. Despite conflicting media reports, there remains little detailed research on labour relations practices and the employment experiences of non-Irish workers.

The research is essentially exploratory in nature. Its main objectives were to subject Irish labour immigration policy to critical scrutiny, and to assess to what extent employers and unions may facilitate the greater integration of non-Irish workers into the labour market. The paper is structured in four main sections. Section two explains the research methodologies employed. The bulk of the paper reports and analyses the findings in section three, specifically assessing the following: the Irish work permit system and the reasons why non-Irish workers have entered the labour market;

employer strategies for the management of immigrant workers; a consideration of broader institutional constraints; and an examination of trade union organising activity for non-Irish workers. Finally, the conclusion section suggests that the main cause of labour exploitation and work degradation for non-Irish workers is twofold: the abuse of employer power which is reinforced by state policy and legislation surrounding the work permit system. Arguably, for many migrant workers, the Irish labour market conjurers up not an image of a booming Celtic Tiger economy, but rather a reality of near-serfdom and social and cultural exclusion. If the objective is attain a workplace more inclusive for the non-Irish workers and meet the demands of the Irish economy, then policy cannot be left to individual employers responding to opportunistic labour market conditions. Otherwise, the case for equality, justice and inclusion will always be dependent on such factors as the profitability of the firm or nature of the product market.





2. Methodology Due to the sensitive nature of the study, qualitative research methods were utilised.

The data was collected from different counties of Ireland, and an ethnographic approach was employed. This included both participant and non-participant observation among immigrant worker campaigns, working alongside immigrant workers in different service occupations, and through a Chamber of Commerce antiracism project located in Dublin. During the ethnographic research more than seventy informants helped with the research in various ways. In addition, documentary sources were obtained, such as union policies and various literatures from trade unions, other labour movements, ethnic minorities groups, government and policymaking agencies and in some cases employer groups, such as Chambers of Commerce.

Several key themes were devised to inform the research, including respondent experiences and perceptions of labour market conditions, trade union organising capacity specific to immigrant workers, as well as employer strategies in the management and employment of non-Irish workers. The ethnographic approach facilitated a high level of direct interaction with immigrant workers and labour movement activists, thus enabling the collection of in-depth respondent perspectives and experiences. In addition to the direct interactions with twenty-five immigrant workers in different occupations, more formal face-to-face interviews were conducted with four separate respondent groups, including: (i) five union officers, (ii) five immigration policy experts, (iv) four human resource managers, (v) thirty non-Irish workers. All the participants were guaranteed anonymity and asked to grant their permission for audio recording and in some cases for their photographs to be taken.

The coding for the data analysis for this study consisted of allocating sections of transcripts and notes into multiple categories. The process involved carefully categorising data in both pre-determined and emerging themes. The method used was a cyclical design that constantly referred back to the transcripts, notes and documentation in order to refine the categorisation and synthesis of data in an attempt to ascertain the pertinent issues and patterns and isolate key phrases within the framework of the study.

–  –  –

3.1. The rise of a Non-Irish labour force “Immigration is, and will continue to be, essential to how we [Irish] as a society, and as individuals, develop and prosper. Immigration is a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland - we have known the other side of the coin for generations. Even today people continue to leave Ireland to expand their experiences and skills.” (Fragment of the statement by Minister of Enterprise Trade and Employment Micheál Martin to Seanad Éireann in relation to the rights of migrant workers on Wednesday, 12th April 2005) The growth of global economic activity has resulted in a world-wide increase in migration. Over the last fifteen years, Ireland has experienced unprecedented economic expansion. Since 1993, the Irish economy has grown at annual rates in excess of 8 per cent, and employment grew by about 25 per cent between 1993 and 1998 (Tansey, 1998; O’Connell, 1999).

This expansion has been welcome but at the same time has brought new challenges (Gunnigle et al., 1999). Ireland’s current rate of immigration per capita is double that of the United States, and Ireland is fast becoming a multicultural society comprising many immigrant workers. There are approximately 165 different nationalities represented in the labour force. Once regarded as a country of emigration, Ireland is now an economy more and more dependent on the labour of immigrant workers. It is also a country that is increasingly attractive to asylum seekers as well as foreign nationals seeking employment.

–  –  –

47,551 50,000 45,000 40,321 36,436 40,000 34,067 35,000 30,000 25,000 18,006 20,000 15,000 6,250 5,716 4,544 10,000 3,778 4,333 2,610 1,103 5,000 Data Source: The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

As reported in Figure 1, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) issued 47,551 work permits in 2003, 40,321 in 2002, 36,436 in 2001 (DETE, 2003). This compares with 6,528 issued in 1999 (FAS, 2001). In 2004 34,067 work permits were issued. This reduction is due to the fact that one of the largest regions of labour supply to Ireland was the block of Eastern European Countries which are now members of the EU since 1st May 2005 (see also Figure 2). Thus although the reported incidence of work permits issued fell slightly, the rate of foreign workers entering the Irish labour market continues to rise.

–  –  –

0 500 1,000 1,500 2,000 2,500 3,000 3,500 4,000 Source: Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Figure 3 provides some information as to the distribution of foreign workers according to industrial sector across the Irish economy. The majority of work permit holders are concentrated among some of the lower paid occupations in services, catering and agriculture and fisheries. In contrast, the medical and nursing professions did not experience any significant variation in numbers compared with the previously mentioned sectors in the period 1999-2004. This sector is associated with the high representation of nursing practitioners from the Philippines and medical staff from Middle East and South Asian countries.

–  –  –

In Ireland, statistics related to foreign nationals are dispersed across both public and private sources (Barry, 2000). There are no reliable statistics readily available on the numbers of European Economic Area (EEA)1 nationals in Ireland. The reason for this data deficit is that EEA nationals are not obliged to report their presence in Ireland to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and prior to the current census (2002), nationality and ethnicity had not been measured.



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