7.3 Discrimination and Exploitation in the Workplace

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Discrimination in the workplace is a consistent problem which the State does not adequately address. Migrants, in particular, experience higher rates of discrimination in looking for work and in the workplace, partly due to recruitment practices.1 The Employment Appeals Tribunal, an independent quasi-judicial body established to deal with discrimination in the workplace is not considered to provide an effective remedy due to considerable delays; in 2014, it took 76 weeks on average to get a hearing in one particular region.2

Employment Equality legislation does not adequately protect workers against discrimination in workplaces with a religious ethos or religious patron where their sexual orientation, civil/marital status or gender identity is considered to conflict with the ethos of the institution. Current legislation contains an exemption for certain educational and medical institutions to discriminate on religious grounds3 which presents difficulties for teachers of no religion or minority religions, and for teachers who are single parents, as well as those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Ninety-six per cent of all primary schools are run by a religious patron, the majority of which are Roman Catholic.4

While Government has recognised this difficulty and committed to take action to ensure that ‘people of non-faith or minority religious backgrounds and publicly identified LGBT people should not be deterred from training or taking up employment as teachers in the State’,5 employees in religious-run organisations continue to face a ‘chill factor’ and have concerns for their job security.6 The newly established Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has reviewed the legislation and recommended reform of the provision to prevent discrimination in the workplace.7 In July 2014 the UN Human Rights Committee called on the State to amend the legislation.8

Government policy continues to focus on attracting high skilled workers to the labour market despite a growth in demand for workers with essential skills.9 The Work Permit system needs to respond to these demands otherwise gaps in the labour market will be filled through exploitative employment practices. One example is the clear demand for childcare workers which has led to a growth in recruitment of au pair workers who are subject to exploitative rates of pay.10 In 2014, there were 58,985 people registered and eligible to apply for a work permit.11 The Employment Permits Act 2006 broadened the work permit system allowing either the employee or the employer to apply for a permit or renewal but difficulties remain. A worker’s immigration status is tied to a specific employer, so unless he or she is aware of how to change employer and is willing to engage in the complex administrative procedures, he or she may end up being exploited.12 Even after five years’ residence in the State, a worker is not automatically granted permanent or long-term residence status which would afford them freedom of movement within the labour market. This status is only granted on a discretionary basis by the Minister for Justice and Equality and until it is granted they remain locked into the employment permit system. The State has not opted into the Long Term Residence Directive.13 The European Committee on Social Rights has found that work permit fees in Ireland - which range between €500 and €2250 - are excessive and violate Article 18 (right to engage in gainful occupation) of the European Social Charter.14

In 2013, the National Employment Rights Authority detected 453 possible breaches of the Employment Permits Acts resulting in 48 successful prosecutions against employers, with 100 prosecution cases pending for processing in 2014.15 Legislation enacted to deal with anomalies in the work permit system will come into force in September 2014. This follows a 2012 High Court decision which found that a migrant worker who had been exploited over a prolonged period could not enforce a favourable Labour Court judgment as he had not held a valid work permit for the duration of his employment.16


FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:

  • Amend the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011 as a matter of priority to remove all forms of discrimination against employees or potential employees of religious-run institutions in the fields of education and health.

  • Monitor and enforce the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014 to ensure that migrant workers do not suffer exploitation.

  • Abolish the provision in the Employment Permit Act 2003-2014 that ties an employee to a specific employer.

  • Expand eligible employment categories to secure work to create regular channels of migration in line with the demand of essential skills in the labour market, such as childcare and the services industry.


1 P. J. O’Connell and F. McGinnity, The Equality Authority (2008) Immigrants at Work: Ethnicity and Nationality in the Irish Labour Market, Dublin: Equality Authority and Economic and Social Research Institute, p.34.

2 Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, Parliamentary Questions: Written Answers [10037/14], 27 February 2014.

3 Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011.

4 Department of Education and Skills (2014) Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions, Dublin: DES, pp.5-6.

5 Department of Education,’Minister Quinn welcomes Committee Stage of the Employment Equality Bill’, [press release], 9 April 2014.

6 Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (2013) Submission to the Equality Authority on Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2011, Dublin: GLEN, pp.3-5.

7 Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Designate) (2014) Recommendation Paper on the Review of Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011.

8 UN Human Rights Committee (2014) Concluding Observations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Ireland, Geneva: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, para. 21.

9 J. Behan, J.McNaboe, C. Shally and N. Burke (2014) National Skills Bulletin 2014, Dublin: SOLAS Further Education and Training Authority and Expert Group on Further Skill Needs, p.63.

10 Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (2014) Au Pairs: Briefing Paper and Recommendations, Dublin: MRCI.

11 Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, Submission to the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014, Dublin: MRCI, p.2.

12 Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (2014) MRCI’s Submission to the Shadow Report to the Irish State’s obligation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Dublin: Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, p.3.

13 Long Term Residence Directive 2003/109/EC sets out the rights of non-EEA citizens living legally and continuously in an EU Member State for more than five years.

14 European Committee on Social Rights (2013) European Social Charter (Revised): Conclusions 2012 Ireland, Strasbourg: Council of Europe, p.28.

15 National Employment Rights Authority (2014) Annual Review 2013, Dublin: NERA.

16 Hussein v Labour Court and Another [2012] 2 I.R. 704; [2012] 2 I.L.R.M. 508; [2012] E.L.R. 293

Last Updated: 22/01/2015 ^ back to top