Wednesday, 11 October 2006
Question 12: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the situation regarding Gama Construction Ireland Limited and the moneys owed to its workers; if he is satisfied that all due moneys have been correctly and fairly paid to the workers; if action is to be taken against Gama Construction Ireland Limited to prosecute it for illegally withholding the salaries of these workers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32042/06]
The labour inspectorate undertook an investigation of allegations made in this House on 8 February 2005 regarding compliance by Gama Construction Ireland Limited with certain employment rights provisions.
A report on the investigation was prepared and circulated to relevant parties, including Gama Construction Ireland Limited. The outcome of an interlocutory hearing on a judicial review brought subsequently by Gama Construction Ireland Limited with regard to the investigation and inspector's report was that the Department was restrained from publishing the inspector's report but permitted to forward the document to relevant prosecutorial bodies. Accordingly, a copy of the inspector's report was sent to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Revenue Commissioners, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Competition Authority, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Garda Commissioner.
The inspector's report was quashed in the judgment on 23 June 2005 that followed the full High Court hearing of the case. That decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may be in a position to hear this case early next year. I am unable to elaborate any further on the content of the inspector's report or offer any observations on the actions, including prosecutions, that the prosecutorial bodies mentioned above may be considering.
Our main concern was to ensure that all Turkish workers would have access to the money that had been transferred to their bank accounts in Finansbank in Amsterdam. In this regard, following meetings with senior management from Gama International and Gama Construction Ireland Limited, and contacts with the president of Finansbank, SIPTU and Deputy Joe Higgins, I am satisfied that a substantial number of Turkish workers who were in Ireland around last April received value for the funds that had been transferred to their personal bank accounts in Finansbank. The Department has tried but ultimately failed to verify whether all Gama Construction Ireland Limited workers received value for these transfers. I am not in a position to assure the Deputy that all Gama Construction Ireland Limited workers in Ireland, both past and present, have received value for the amounts that were transferred into their personal accounts in Finansbank. However, my Department estimates that the Gama Construction Ireland Limited workers have benefited to the extent of €20 million as a result of the investigation. The labour inspectorate's inquiries into compliance by Gama Construction Ireland Limited are continuing.
I do not know how many companies like Gama Construction Ireland Limited are operating here but there is more than one. What lessons have the Department and the inspectors learned from the quashing of the inspector's report? The Supreme Court must follow its own path, over which the Department has no control. The Minister has control over the reasons the report was quashed and whether other reports will be written in such a way as to avoid the legal hazard that emerged from the High Court decision.
How does the Department feel about the actions taken by the Minister's predecessor in encouraging companies from third countries such as Turkey into the Irish market? Without wishing to prejudice the outcome of the case, it appears that this company entered into a very unusual contractual arrangement for payment with workers from the home country. Do we not have an obligation to ensure that any worker in our construction sector or any other sector is treated equally? Should lessons be learned by the Department in respect of the manner in which Gama Construction Ireland Limited entered the Irish economy? Is the Minister concerned by the continuing presence of Gama Construction Ireland Limited and the way in which it behaves?
Regarding the legal issues that arose about the Department's capacity to publish the report of the labour inspectorate, it is my intention to deal with that legal deficiency in the legislative framework for employment rights compliance. A new compliance Bill will result from our commitments to the latest social partnership agreement.
Yes. As the report was adjudged to be ultra vires, pending adjudication by the Supreme Court, there was a legal deficiency. We are amending the legislation to grant broader powers to the Minister on these issues.
We issue work permits to employers in good faith. One must trust that people will honour the decision and behave accordingly. We are not satisfied with the information received from Gama Construction Ireland Limited. I am not satisfied with the long process in which we have been engaged, ensuring that Gama Construction Ireland Limited understood our way of dealing with matters. Early in our discussions, I realised that Gama Construction Ireland Limited was unaware of our labour relations machinery, such as the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court.
We have learned lessons from this episode. The advent of EU accession states moves the goalposts significantly. There is no longer a requirement to employ a large number of workers from any one company. Any company that wishes to locate in Ireland should seek to recruit from Ireland or the EU labour market. In 1999 we faced major skills shortages and there was an inflationary spiral in the construction sector. At that time, it was a reasonable proposition that companies would bring workers to Ireland to work on projects here as long as the companies obeyed the rules. One of the key results of our experience with Gama Construction Ireland Limited and a number of other experiences is the deliberation on the new social partnership agreement and the raft of legislation that will emanate from that. The inspectorate will expand to include 90 inspectors, the new compliance Bill will be published and a new compliance office will be created.