Article from the Mar. 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI


GAMA bonded labour scandal

JOE HIGGINS TD's exposure of the exploitation of Turkish workers employed by GAMA in the Dail has opened a can of worms. Since Joe told the Dail on 8 February 2005 that GAMA workers were getting paid as little as 2.20 an hour, numerous examples of the exploitation of immigrant workers from Poland, Lithuania, Romania and other countries have come to light.

A picture is emerging of massive exploitation of immigrant labour all across the country. These workers have been afraid to speak out or fight to improve their wages and conditions because of the threat from employers to send them back home if they cause "trouble". The government is ultimately responsible for these conditions of bonded labour. It gives work permits to the employer, not the employee, therefore giving the employers control over the lives of the workers and their families.

The gross exploitation of immigrant workers is not only criminal but it also is a threat to the wages and conditions of all workers. The Socialist Party applauds the actions of bricklayers in Mayo and Mullingar who have supported Polish and Lithuanian strikers campaigning for better pay. United action by Irish and immigrant workers can force the employers to pay decent wages and will result in better pay and conditions for all.

GAMA on the ropes

by Councillor Mick Murphy

ON 4 March, the Turkish construction company, GAMA began a damage limitation exercise and announced it had under paid its workers and suspended some staff for allegedly making a mistake with the payroll. GAMA claims it has underpaid its Turkish workers based in Ireland by an average of 8% with some workers owed up to 3,500. The announcement was made in anticipation of a report due out within the next month or so from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE).

An investigation by Labour Inspectors from the Department was initiated into GAMA after the Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins announced in the Dail on 8 February 2005 that the company pays its workers 42.20 per hour. Far from being an 8% underpayment, it would be more like a 700% shortfall. GAMA owes over 1,000 workers back money, which runs to millions of euro.

The Socialist Party has been distributing leaflets to the GAMA workers since January explaining what their pay and conditions should be under the Registered Employment Agreement (REA). As most of the GAMA's contracts are projects for public bodies they are strictly contracted to pay the REA conditions.

Information received from the workers on different GAMA sites show that they work 60 to 90 hour weeks for gross pay of less than 1,000 per month. We have spoken to GAMA employees who work an average 84-hour week in the summer time. This is not only inhuman but illegal as well. Under the REA these workers would be receiving a substantial wage since GAMA claims publicly that no worker is paid less than 12.96 an hour.

This issue first surfaced last November when three Irish carpenters went on strike at the Balgaddy site in Lucan where GAMA are building 300 housing units for South Dublin County Council. During the course of this dispute, it became clear that all was not well with the pay and conditions of the Turkish workers who live on the site. Despite written assurances from the County Manager and GAMA, the Socialist Party decided to launch its own investigation into the conditions of the Turkish workers.

Some of these workers who speak English were approached when they were off the site but wouldn't speak out of fear that the company might find out. We then decided to write them a letter in Turkish explaining the rates of pay that they should be receiving. They were given phone numbers to contact including that of a Turkish speaker.

The leaflets were got into the men by various means and following this information started to emerge. RTE was interested in this story and got some footage of interviews with the workers that showed hand written pay slips and explained how the system worked.

GAMA is the largest construction company in Turkey and operates in many other countries. It employs a total staff of around 10,000 workers. It specialises in power stations and is part owner of some of the private electricity generating stations it has built here. It has a long-term interest in this country and will not be able to just run away from this scandal.

The DETE has announced that it will not issue any new work permits to GAMA until the investigation is finished and no workers are to be moved while the investigation is ongoing. This is very important as the main threat the men live under is to be sent back to Turkey where there is 18% unemployment. As Joe Higgins said in the Dail these workers have been held in a form of bonded labour and have been exploited and ripped off to the tune of many millions of euro.

The type of gross exploitation of migrant workers that has emerged in the case of GAMA and by other employers as well, is not only wrong and criminal in itself, but also poses a threat to the rates of pay and working conditions of all workers. Many employers would like to start a race to the bottom regarding wages and workers' rights. The trade unions have a crucial responsibility to take special measures to organise exploited workers and to take measures to get behind the fear and intimidation that keeps these workers silent about serious abuse of their rights.

Rampant exploitation

by Susan Fitzgerald

AN INVESTIGATION by the Irish Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment is underway following revelations that Polish workers employed on the state's largest construction project, the Dublin Port Tunnel, are being paid 50% less than Irish workers on site.

The Polish workers are being paid just over 8 per hour for a 58-hour week, half the industry's basic rate. One worker on site who was afraid to give his name said "if you don't sign you have 14 days and you go home. People don't have a choice"

Along with not receiving the industry rate, the workers who are employed by Format Industrial Construction Ltd. receive none of the standard benefits and entitlements such as holiday pay, overtime, pensions etc.

The workers have said they are terrified to speak up in case they are sacked and sent back to Poland.

The highlighting of GAMA Construction and conditions on the Dublin Port Tunnel represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of exposing the rampant exploitation of many non national workers in the construction industry. Construction unions have been inundated with complaints and inquiries from workers from Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey and elsewhere.

An important development on these issues has been the solidarity shown by many Irish construction workers in support of their colleagues.

In Mullingar when twelve workers, ten Poles and two Lithuanians went on strike, the employer McCann & Son bussed in other workers to pass the picket and complete the project. Local bricklayers then turned out and matched the numbers on the picket line while also giving up a days pay to support the strikers who were receiving nothing.

In Mayo, bricklayers and union activists were appalled when they were approached by up to 60 Lithuanian bricklayers who were been paid as little as 105 per day for a seven day week, one local BATU activist who is supporting these workers said "because we were exploited in the past we should make sure that people who are coming here are not treated in the same way".

Reports of exploitation of migrant workers in Northern Ireland

More articles from this issue of the Socialist are listed here.

More articles from the SP archives of are available in our sitemap