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Foreign Workers Being Paid €3 An Hour In Portlaoise

category laois | worker & community struggles and protests | feature author Thursday September 22, 2005 21:02author by Mark C - Teacherauthor email oscailt at indymedia dot ieauthor address Fairgreen, Portlaoise Report this post to the editors

Equal pay for Equal work. Is that a difficult concept?

From the newswire: €170,000 was the price paid for the house that I am living in, in a new development in Portlaoise. I am not happy to have discovered that European Union (Czech Republic) workers are being paid €3 an hour on the site.

The Katherine, a nice expensive house. Image (c) Owenass

Recently my father bought a house at Fairgreen Village (a new post-modern living development) in Portlaoise. A woman that we know, who has been finding it very difficult to secure employment in Portlaoise, was offered a job (by another Eastern European person) cleaning out houses after they had been built, to get them ready for the purchasers to move in. She accepted the job and after the first day told me that she was being paid about €40 for ten hours’ work. This was on day one of the job.

When I informed her that this was illegal and that we have minimum pay wage agreements, she told me that she knows but that is what Eastern European workers are paid, and must be satisfied with it. On the second day she was offered €20 for six hours work – a little more than €3 an hour. The woman refused to work for so little, but her friend stayed on. When the woman said that it was illegal, her would-be contractor (a woman from Latvia I think, who I presume to be sub-contracting from the developers, Owenass Developers) she was asked why is she looking for work since she is seeing an Irishman?

UPDATE: Owenass Developers have met with Mark and have guaranteed that all workers employed directly by them are getting at least minimum wage and that they will make subcontractors sign a declaration to the same effect.

This is something that must stop. We did not pay below the market value for the house. If the market value of the houses not sold goes you, you may be sure that the price of those houses will also rise. If the price of cement, for example, goes up, you may be sure that the prices of as-yet unsold houses will also rise, as the developer will “have no choice but to pass this cost on to the consumer”. If cheaper labour is secured, you may be sure that the prices of the as-yet unsold houses will not fall. The Irish people fought for long enough, and hard enough to secure minimum-pay wage agreements, and labour rights. Allowing foreign workers to work for below this will lead to a fall in the national pay for workers. The argument has been made to me that foreign workers are happy to work for so little, because it is worth so much more in their countries, and they can send some home. I still think that no matter how happy they are with €3 an hour they would be happier with the minimum legal amount.

To contact the developers of this site you can email them, phone 0502 43567 or 086 2627314, or write to Sean Flanaghan, Owenass Developments, Portarlington, Co. Laois. The showhouses are open seven days a week.

Mark Conroy.

Related links:

Related Link:
author by iosafpublication date Wed Sep 21, 2005 13:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You have recently completed a holiday tour of the eastern European members of the EU and gone beyond as far as the Ukraine, do you think those workers in portlaoise are representative of the hopes and aspirations of the fellow citizens left at home?
It has been a little over two years since Bertie Ahern under great pressure rushed through the 25 state expansion, and the "polish plumber" (synonym for eastern casual worker) phenomona has gripped western EU state's rightwing media, even to the stage of being used as a poster image for the french EU constitution vote. The Polish government responded by producing "visit Poland" adverts using two "sexy" characters "polish plumber" and "polish nurse". (english article at link on theme)

The availabilty of cheap labour or black market labour does not though play a major part in real estate pricing or property speculation. The idea of building a house as cheaply as possible is not a new one, and the skill of selling a house as expensively as possible has only developed in the last 15 years in the EU for other reasons-
The non regularisation of estate agents, and the move to real estate investment by large banking entities as an alternative to other stock or options which are now volatile. Cement and other raw materials don't really fluctuate much in value, & as logical as it might seem, you can't value your house on either the materials or labour used.

It is valued by the national and european economy.
One which under Ahern chose to expand the EU to the east without affording fellow workers their rights to participate as equal citizens an at the same time selling them a myth which has brought more eastern workers and students to the west than at any stage since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. Its a crucial time for "europe", if within five years these new migrant groups (& I am loathe to call these people "foreigners") do not integrate and experience some type of prosperity their home societies will move to the far right.

author by Mariepublication date Wed Sep 21, 2005 16:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think we should be ashamed as a nation for the wholesale exploitation of migrant workers that is going on all around us. I commend Mark for naming and shaming that building company and I'm going to mail them to let them know my thoughts on the matter. Ireland has never been as prosperous as it is now, yet the average person is being financially squeezed more and more by these cosy cartels of developers and landowners, solicitors and auctioneers, financial and insurance companies, and all those privileged few who have been able to maintain their protected positions in business, devoid of proper competition and supplemented by generous tax breaks, hence increasing the divide in this country between the haves and have nots. One only has to walk into Brown Thomas any Saturday to see the obscene wealth that has been created in certain elements of society, where the outrageous prices being paid for luxury goods are nothing short of a sin while many are being excluded from participating in society, our own citizens and migrants alike. The sooner people wake up to the insatiable greed that has infiltrated this society the better it will be for everyone and we will be able to hold our heads up high again and not in shame as we do now.

author by Duinepublication date Wed Sep 21, 2005 16:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Haigh, a Mharie,
Craos Éireannach?
Is Éireannach mé. Níl mé ag saothrú ceint as "dúshaothrú" oibrithe an Oirthir. Tuige a mbeadh náire orm de thoradh drochghníomhartha éinne eile?

author by Henrypublication date Wed Sep 21, 2005 19:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Greedy scum, if it’s true. I phoned and complained to Owenass Developments. It was a good idea for the report's author to include their contact details. It only took me two minutes. You could do the same yourself.
Why complain? For my part, I have a non-EU friend working full-time in a hotel who is being paid 8 euro a night when he is obliged to do overtime (he is properly paid for the other five nights he works). There is little I or he has (so far) done do to challenge this discrimination. One problem is that the government employs only a handful of labour law inspectors to keep an eye on thousands of employers. Also, if an inspector called solely to examine his case, he might soon find himself mysteriously out of a job. None of his colleagues, including Irish people, are in a trade union. They either don't care or are afraid to join.
Now - presuming Mark's report is accurate - maybe Owenass Developments were unaware they were involved in employing people on such miserable and illegal wages. I don't know what their defence is. Will they admit to subbing work to contractors who can get things done illegally and on the cheap? Paying shite to vulnerable people in order to boost profits? I'd like to at least hear what they have to say. Also, Mark’s story makes me think - are Owenass Developments houses poorly built by poorly paid untrained workers?
Across the country, the fact that employers get away with paying crap to immigrants is causing racism. How? When foreigners can get jobs (because they will take work at illegal rates) and the Irish cannot or will not, there is bound to be resentment from some Irish directed towards people because of their ethnicity.
Whether planned or not, the government has found a clever way of dividing people by ‘race’ and conquering them politically. Divide the underclass - set those who can only get low-paid work against each other. Ireland is a shite country when it comes to these things.
By turning a blind eye to greedy employers paying crap, the Irish government is helping to fuel racism. It’s stupid paying for an anti-racism strategy when most of the racism in Ireland is institutional or government-driven.
If the elected leaders won’t lead, citizens should. And can.
Phone Owenass Developments and ask them about their employment policies, the law, their work ethic, the profits they make, the standard of their housing.
Or if you want to squeal on an exploitative employer, contact: the Labour Inspectorate, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Davitt House, Adelaide Road, Dublin 2 (Telephone 01-6312121. “Lo-Call” 1890 220 222). E-mail: Website:

author by newsforthedeafpublication date Wed Sep 21, 2005 20:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

campaigning to give migrant workers from the accession-ed states equal access to social welfare entitlements?
(is this on the agenda of the "precarity" campaign?)
The 2 year habitual residence test is one of the factors forcing migrant workers into accepting shit wages.

Fireworks celebrated the physical expansion of Europe,
muted (with watercannons)was the fact that European citizens social rights are shrinking.

author by Mark C - Teacherpublication date Thu Sep 22, 2005 09:50author email mark at markconroy dot netauthor address Fairgreen, Portlaoiseauthor phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks to all above for your comments, it's nice to see support. Can I just clarify something: I am not accusing Owenass Developments of employing workers and under-paying them. This is because, to be fair, I didn't contact Owenass Developments: perhaps they do not know that people employed below them are being paid an illegal rate. What I wrote above is based on conversations with two people, one of them the migrant worker who was told she'd be paid €20 for six hours' work. I haven't contacted Owenass Developments simply because I don't want to phone them, I'll call around to the showhouse, probably on Sunday since it will be closed by the time I get home from work today and tomorrow and I'll be in Shannon on Saturday.

To answer some of the questions and comments above. My trip around Eastern Europe this summer didn't really take me to EU states so I am not sure what the workers' aspirations are regarding EU membership.

Duine, I don't think anyone is blaming you personnally. People are saying that we are guilty as a collective Irish consciousness.

Henry, thank you for calling and voicing your complaint. To answer your question about if Owenass build bad houses, I'd have to say no. The house I am living in is built by them, in the estate that I am complaining about, and I've to go past the developers everyday. It'll certainly be interesting if I decide to picket my own estate. My brother also bought a house from them in another estate in Portlaoise and we bought our one because of how happy he was with his. The build beautiful, comfortable houses and I can't fault them. (As an aside: I'd really like you to post an article about the hotel that your friend is employed in so that Indymedia readers could contact it) I don't think people need to go as far as reporting them to the authorities just yet. Wouldn't it be nice to work this one out ourselves?

The Showhouses in the estate are also the site offices so if anyone would like to view one and ask a question, feel free to do so.

Again, thanks.

author by Magopublication date Thu Sep 22, 2005 13:21author email Mago.Merlin at ozu dot esauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Despite all hypocritical messages, sent by the European Union, foreigners will be foreigners and will be seen like foreigners, when it comes to their rights.
European citizenship has an advantage. If they have a contract they are allowed to pay taxes for social welfare that permit no Irish or British worker has to accept those salaries or conditions.

Clarification: to me, it's not a "2 year" habitual residence. Some need less or nothing, some would need more.

author by Mark C - Teacherpublication date Thu Sep 22, 2005 15:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Why would people from, say France or Brittain not have to accept low pay if they are also part of the European Union, if Eastern Europeans (from the European Union) have to? Are they not also "foreign" (if that is the chosen phrase that we are to use) or "migrant" workers?

Mark Conroy.

author by Magopublication date Thu Sep 22, 2005 16:51author email Mago.Merlin at ozu dot esauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

A French person wouldn't accept such low conditions. France is too close and offers better conditions to them. At the end of the day, they are no "foreigners" there.
A British person is no "foreigner" for the Irish Social Welfare System, so they don't have to accept them either. That is good. But, why is not the same case for all the other "European countries"?

author by Clean up your actpublication date Thu Sep 22, 2005 17:27author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Last Monday, BBC 2 showed a documentary entitled ' The secret life of the office cleaner'. This documentary was about the lives of people earning a living cleaning London's office blocks, including an illegal worker from Ecuador who spends all night working in Canary Wharf and then has another job in the City until midday. A refugee from Eritrea, who works in the Houses of Parliament, also reveals why he has been striking for better pay. It was a shocking but insightful programme into how major multinationals and banking corporations exploit foreign workers.

For the full story, follow the link.

author by Patcpublication date Thu Sep 22, 2005 21:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Have local LP, GP or SP politicians been informed of this?

author by Mark C - Teacherpublication date Thu Sep 22, 2005 22:19author email mark at markconroy dot netauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

No, no politicians have been told about this. It is something that I found out a couple of nights ago and posted the story the next day. I don't think we have a Green Party in Portlaoise; whatever form of Labour Party there is it doesn't seem to do ANYTHING; and as for Sinn Fein, we do have a hard working local councillor but I've never had any contact with him.

On a more interesting note, The Sunday Times have been in contact with me about it today and we'll talk further about it tomorrow. Apparently the company have said that they will investigate the matter, but even if it below legal wages are being paid it is the sub-contractors that are at fault.

I'll keep you informed.

Mark Conroy.

author by Mark C - Teacherpublication date Fri Sep 23, 2005 00:25author email mark at markconroy dot netauthor address Fairgreen, Portlaoiseauthor phone 0873689507Report this post to the editors

I have just completed a meeting with senior members of management at Owenass Developments, in which both of us aired views. The meeting went very well and I am completely happy with the outcome of it. I have been guaranteed two things:

1) That all workers at Owenass Developments are being paid and will continue to be paid at least minimum wage. I am allowed to have this independently verified (and be at the independent verification process).

2) Workers who are working under sub-contractors who are contracted to Oweness Developments will be paid at least minimum wages. To ensure this, from now all all sub-contracting companies will have to sign a declaration that they will inturn pay their workers at least minimum wages.

It is my hope that the second guarantee might set a precedent in the industry.

Thanks to all for their support in this matter and thanks to Owenass Developments for their pro-active approach when the matter was brought to them.

Mark Conroy.

author by Prophet without honourpublication date Fri Sep 23, 2005 00:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Once ye slavered under the yoke of the British landlords.

Then ye kicked them out and were subjugated by the Roman clerical aristocracy.

Now ye've toppled them from their pedestals and have entered a new era of bondage to the High Priests of Mammon and their acolytes.

I wonder what ye'll get up to next ?

author by Mariepublication date Fri Sep 23, 2005 10:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Well done Mark! It's about time we started exposing this disgraceful exploitation of people coming here to work. It's even more annoying when you see the industries that are doing the exploiting, and especially when times have never been so good for those industries.
I have many friends from other countries that have come here to work and konw of their friends who have been exploited regarding their rights but to be honest, there is no simple way for them to redress this without losing their job, work permits and money they need to survive from month to month. There needs to be a radical overhaul in this area. Something like the consumers association/small claims court needs to be set up for migrant workers to ensure they aren't made more vulnerable by making a complaint about their employer.

author by Mark C - Teacherpublication date Fri Sep 23, 2005 11:46author email mark at markconroy dot netauthor address author phone 0873689507Report this post to the editors

Thanks Marie,

It is nice to think that I might have helped someone in some small way, but I also have to say that I don't think Owenass Developments are in the wrong here. They were certainly very nice people to deal with last night and they sincerely seemed to be interested in the issue, going as far as, as I said above, to agreeing to put in place a system whereby any sub-contrator (and sub-contracting is a system that they are trying to phase out, because it is so hard to keep tabs on them) will have to sign a declaration that they will pay their respective workers at least minimum wage.

So all in all, yes, a story with a positive ending.


author by Magopublication date Fri Sep 23, 2005 16:46author email Mago.Merlin at ozu dot esauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is very positive indeed. Fair play to all of you and to the fact that there are some people concerned.
There is an ideal approach after this, in my opinion, and is to look for the abolition of the Habitual Residence Condition.

As long as people (even legally here) are discriminated against, - if they're not from Ireland or Great Britain -, on Social Welfare, this story may keep happening in other places. Can we go after all of them, individually?

You can find a few of my objections to the Habitual Residence Condition here:
An easy, small, first contribution would be to sign the petition.
With this abolished, fewer people will be obliged to take low wages, this leading to employers to offer decent minimun conditions and that's a benefit for all.

Let me know your views.

author by R. Isiblepublication date Fri Sep 23, 2005 17:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

And well done to Owenmass for responding positively and fairly to the situation. Following up on this to make sure that the proposed sub-contractor declaration is in fact implemented would be a good idea. I hope you'll keep in touch with us about progress on this Mark?

author by Magopublication date Sat Sep 24, 2005 16:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It's going too slow but just as well they've "raised concern".

author by Eddiepublication date Mon Sep 26, 2005 02:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hey Mark, being from Portlaoise myself, that's pretty shocking to hear about. Jesus.
Is that the place out the Mountmellick Road?
That's only about a 5 minute walk from my house if it is.
It's good to hear you've made positive progress though.
Hope it all works out.

A teacher, eh? Ballyfin?

author by Welcome to 2005publication date Mon Sep 26, 2005 03:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Funny the silence, do you hear a whisper from the CFI, the supposed representative body of the construction industry??? Not at all, sure aren't they too busy down in the Fianna Fail tent! The same whingers above have most likely agreed to buy the property, while coming here for a general moan and a bitch, notwthstanding the fact that they have an issue with what effectively is slave labour. I'lll take my hat off to the man or woman who has walked away from a house upon finding out that it has been built by people who are being paid far less then the minimum wage, but my money is on the fact the romantic Ireland is dead and gone, it's with O' Leary, in the grave...

author by Mark C - Teacherpublication date Mon Sep 26, 2005 09:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi Eddie,

Yes the houses are the ones on the Mountmellick Road, and fine houses they are too. Teacher, yes. I used to teach in Ballyfin but not anymore. Haven't been teaching there since last December.

I'll end this transmission, I wouldn't think wants their bandwidth used in such a manner.


author by Eddiepublication date Mon Sep 26, 2005 14:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ah of course, yeh. I was just curious.

Do you know if this issue could possibly be a problem in other housing developements in the town? At this stage there's countless new developements springing up all over the outskirts of the town and if it was happening in this developement, it could just as easily be happening on any of them.
Heres to hoping this will turn out to be an isolated situation!


author by Brianpublication date Fri Sep 30, 2005 05:27author email winterlord_ie at yahoo dot ieauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I live just down the road, in Rossleaghan. People have known this for a longtime, it's also been said that the heritage hotel in Portlaoise, is doing the same.

I think its a shame.

author by Tompublication date Tue Oct 04, 2005 23:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

3€ an hour is plenty for unskilled labour. Has everybody forgotten about motive incentive? The minimum wage is too high and will lead directly to unemployment when times get tough. Who is first in line to loose their jobs, the lowest paid and uppper middle class people like me will look at them and pity them, knowing deep in our hearts if we had encouraged people to get a skill or education they would have a better chance of surviving when things get tough. Who then will complain about high taxes supoporting the unemployed? Middle class Ireland who supported the initial high minimum wages in the first place.
I cannot help but notice a very left wing tendency pervading throught this site. However I feel that you are preaching to the converted. Might want to read a few more books other than the communist manifesto. Strongly recommend Eat the Rich by PJ O'Rourke

author by Mark C - Teacherpublication date Wed Oct 05, 2005 13:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

€3 an hour 40 hours a week equals €120. Even those on the dole get more than that and they don't have to move except to sign on once a month. There will always be an "unskilled" workforce simply because, even if everyone was motivated enough to get a college degree, it may not be enough. In former years those who had a Leaving Certificate were considered to be highly educated. In the coming years if everyone had a BA they may not be considered "highly skilled" because the barometer of what measures skill will have been moved. I am not proposing that we should try to ensure that we have an imbecile, unskilled, lower class but to take your proposition to its conclusion I can only think that in the futre we would have a society of unemployed PhDs.

Yes, there does seem to be a bias towards the left on Indymedia but I don't think we are preaching to the converted. You have read my article for instance and you don't seem to be a "leftie".

On the literature front, some of us have read more than just The Communist Manifesto - something that I wouldn't consider a book, more a pamphlet. Believe it or not some of us have even read and chuckled away at PJ O'Rourke - you've got to love the idea of Christmas in a war-torn Lebanon. But to be honest O'Rourke to the right is like Michael Moore to the left, nothing but a tabloid.

I hope you remain rich, as I remain, humbly, yours,
Mark Conroy.

author by Magopublication date Sat Nov 05, 2005 20:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This article was published on the
23rd of September 2005
Irish times

State queried on welfare for EU immigrants
Carl O'Brien, Social Affairs Correspondent

The European Commission has raised concern over the legality of the Government's decision to refuse social welfare benefits to migrant workers.

A two-year habitual residence condition was introduced for social welfare assistance last year, in response to Government fears the accession of 10 new members to the EU could lead to a significant number of citizens coming here to draw welfare payments.

Officials from the European Commission have sent a "notice of infringement" to the Government over the extent to which benefits are being denied to EU citizens, The Irish Times has learned.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs yesterday confirmed it was in discussion with commission officials to clarify and address issues raised.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Social and Family Affairs Seamus Brennan said it was expected these discussions will be "concluded to the satisfaction of both parties by the end of this year".

While the Minister told the Dáil earlier this year he was not aware of hardship caused by the refusal of social assistance, homeless and immigrant support groups say there is increasing evidence of immigrants being put at risk of poverty and homelessness.

The Homeless Agency, a partnership body which includes representatives of voluntary and statutory service providers, is also conducting a study into the effects of the welfare restriction.

A number of groups representing migrant workers are due to meet with Mr Brennan next month, when they will discuss their growing concern over the impact of social welfare restrictions.

Voluntary groups say they are receiving requests for emergency support and assistance from migrant workers on a daily basis, while there are cases of non-nationals sleeping rough and in cars in recent months.

Siobhán O'Donoghue, of the Migrant Rights Centre, said changes were needed to ensure there was a safety net for the small number of people who find themselves without work.

"We're getting cases every week and they're just the tip of the iceberg.

"The kind of people affected by this provision are those who come here to work but end up unemployed through injury, illness or exploitation," she said.

"The consequences and impact of the restriction were not foreseen at the time it was introduced and are causing serious problems for migrant workers."

Just yesterday, said Ms O'Donoghue, the centre had to provide assistance to a 24-year-old Lithuanian who had arrived in Ireland to work, but had his passport and money stolen.

Philip Watt, of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, said figures showed little evidence of migrants travelling here to access social welfare support.

"Between May 2004 and April 2005, 85,000 people have come here from accession states.

"Figures show there have been over 3,000 applications for social assistance, which amount to 3.5 per cent," he said.

author by Magopublication date Wed Dec 14, 2005 21:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Migrant workers got €2 an hour after tax
Ali Bracken

Seven migrant workers were recently paid only €2 an hour after tax by a Dublin plastering company, according to Siptu.

Siptu says that A1 Plastering, based in Dublin, paid six Polish and one Slovakian construction worker a total of €796.25 for eight full days work after tax. When divided, each worker received €114 for eight days work, which works out at just over €14 per person per day.

Brendan O'Brien, Siptu official in the construction branch, yesterday insisted that the company should immediately pay the seven workers "the thousands of euro they owe them".

Siptu officials met A1 Plastering management yesterday following a strike by some of the Polish workers over their pay at the JJ Rhatigan construction site at Chancery Lane, Dublin, where A1 Plastering was sub-contracted to work.

The six Polish and one Slovakian man began working for A1 Plastering on November 22nd at the Chancery Lane site. They say they all gave their PPS numbers to the plastering company's foreman.

They worked on the site for eight days before one of the Polish men, Artur Junkiert (27), received a cheque for €796.25.

According to Mr Junkiert, the only one of the workers to speak any English, the foreman said it was to be divided between the seven men.

On his payslip, seen by The Irish Times, it states that Mr Junkiert was working on a C45 contract, which meant he was working on a self-employed basis. Siptu says Mr Junkiert should have been on PAYE.

Following the initial eight days work by the seven migrant workers, five of them were told they were no longer needed, according to Mr Junkiert.

Mr Junkiert and Pole Sebastian Strauss (24) were asked to continue working for A1 Plastering.

Both men worked for five days from December 1st, and said they were paid €299.65 each after tax.

The owner of AI Plastering, Finbar Fealy, said the company made three payments to the group of seven migrant workers but could not confirm for how much.

"I believe there were three payments made, and they agreed a price with the foreman.

"I don't know what the problem is and why they say we owe them money."

A1 Plastering's foreman said that "the boys did get paid. This has all been blown out of proportion."

A spokeswoman for JJ Rhatigan said: "We are currently trying to establish the facts on this matter, and do not wish to comment further until this has been done."

My Marginal Note:

SIPTU may deal with every individual case or...
go after the legislation.

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