The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has been kicking against the pricks for ten years now. Rashers Tierney sat down for a chat to see how the battle for inclusivity is progressing in the land of a thousand welcomes.
rabble has collected anecdotal accounts of the rise of workplace bullying during the recession. Is the hidden sector of Domestic Work an area that is particularly open to bullying and abusive behavior from employers?
Every week, our caseworkers deal with numerous cases of exploitation, denial of basic employment rights, discrimination and abuse. The work permit system – where people are tied to one employer – increases the risk of exploitation and abuse: people are afraid to make waves in case the employer terminates their contract and they are left jobless, with no opportunity to change jobs or access social welfare.
In 2012 over half of the domestic works we researched had experienced discrimination and racism in the workplace. Over a quarter of respondents reported that they were not allowed to speak their native language, even during break time. The study was small-scale, but the results are consistent with what we’ve seen over the years. We’ve supported hundreds of migrant workers to go to the Labour Courts for repeated and serious breaches of their employment rights; unfortunately, that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.
For example Au Pair work: People seem to think that if you call someone an au pair, they’re not entitled to minimum wage or basic employment rights; that’s simply not the case.
How does the MRCI encourage agency among those that rely on it?
Building leadership and empowering people is central to our work; it’s vital that people have a voice on the issues that affect their lives. MRCI uses a community work approach, which means people need to be involved in making decisions and bringing about change. We do this through campaign groups made up of people affected by an issue – for example, some 300 domestic workers are members of our Domestic Workers Action Group, while Justice for the Undocumented has a membership of over 700 – and we implement a range of programmes for people to develop leadership, advocacy and campaigning skills. Other groups are made up of victims of forced labour, young people accessing third level, and previously, restaurant workers and mushroom workers. Anyone interested can call into our drop-in centre or send us an email.
Are we a hypocritical people when it comes to migration issues?
I think we have far greater empathy with migrants than certain other nations, although sometimes we might need reminding that every one of our emigrants is also an immigrant! On the issue of the undocumented in particular – actually, there is substantial public support for the undocumented in Ireland, perhaps because so many families have experienced the pain of separation from their undocumented relatives in the US. We have cross-party support now for the idea of Earned Regularisation, there’s widespread recognition that it’s a pragmatic and straightforward solution.
The reports of racist bullying in the Making Ireland Home documentary are pretty shocking. Is our media failing us in covering these experiences?
Some media – like rabble, thank you! – have taken up this issue, but it can seem as though the debate is stuck at “Does racism really exist in Ireland?” rather than, “What can we do to combat racism here?”
We’re part of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) Ireland, which is doing extraordinary work mapping racism across Ireland through www.iReport.ie. People can report racist incidents they witness to the site. Racism does exist in Ireland; hopefully with this evidence, the debate can finally move forward.