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Working Conditions in Restaurants in Dublin, Ireland

This study has focused on researching the working conditions as prevalent in ‘casual dining restaurants’ in Dublin. This class of restaurants has been chosen by me primarily because of the wider popularity they enjoy amongst majority of people who wish to dine outside at reasonable cost, unlike the restaurants that are in the class of ‘fine dining’ which have the rich and elite as their customers. Fine dining restaurants appear to cater more to the needs of people out on a special occasion or for a luxury treat, while the casual dining restaurants thrive at all times of the week. By choosing to research the working conditions in casual dining restaurants, wider range of resources can be used since they are extremely popular amongst different strata of consumers such as couples, young people and young families, and for casual parties.

The research has attempted to ascertain the prevalent working conditions in these restaurants in regard to their present status and to find out the solutions to the several instances and examples of their discrimination and unfair treatment at the hands of restaurant owners. Efforts have been focused on researching on the view points of both sides by way of conducting interviews of employees and employers. The study has very important implications since this industry is thriving at a fast pace and under such circumstances it becomes important to take care of the welfare of the restaurant employees in view of their consistent hard work for which they deserve to be treated in a fair and humane way. It is unfortunate that restaurant workers who are a hard working lot have been ignored so far by society in not giving them their fair share of treatment, not only in Dublin but all over the world.


There are different types and classes of restaurants and they fall under several classifications depending upon the style of menu, methods of preparation and pricing. A major factor in determining the type of restaurant is the style in which the food is served to customers. Although historically restaurants implied places that were equipped with tables and chairs where customers sat down and ate while being served by the restaurant waiters, the increasing popularity of take away and fast food restaurants has changed the concept of restaurants especially in regard to classification in terms of whether it is a sit down place or one that requires to collect the food from the counter.

Commonly, sit down restaurants are classified differently in being family style or formal and takeaway outlets and fast food outlets are no longer considered to be falling in the category of restaurants since the food is not served by waiters (Jagmohan Negi, 2003).

As regards the restaurants in Dublin, they are wonderful places to relish the tastes of sumptuous meals. Dublin is a modern place and offers fine food for every budget and taste as there are several restaurants that serve delicious food at affordable prices. Restaurants in Dublin are said to be one of the best providers of a variety of cuisines from around the world whether it is Chilean or Chinese, Indonesian or Indian, Filipino or French and Mexican or Mediterranean. There are several restaurants with an electrifying ambience and atmosphere, stylish and charming interiors and bistros that provide an exhilarating tone in defining the character of the surroundings. The best part about these restaurants is the lavish nature of the segments that ensure provision of the best quality of food in liberal quantities. It is in these restaurants that visitors, families and students gather in combining themselves to extend social circles and to improve public relations (.

Fast Food Restaurants

Fast food restaurants have come to be known as places where the food is served at the counter and have become very popular amongst the majority of people in providing eating convenience at reasonable prices. Fast food chains such as Burger King and Mc Donald’s are considered to be the pioneers in the concept and were followed by In & Out Burger, KFC and Taco Bell in providing eating convenience for people out on a quick bite or to have a casual gathering. Fast food chains are typically characterized in being food chains spread across nations as also around the world with the same brands and almost the same menu. A catch in opening a fast food outlet as a franchisee is the fact that it costs much more in opening it as compared to an independent restaurant, but then the returns clearly offset the high costs in the long term.

Casual Dining Restaurants

These restaurants are known for the family style dining and casual dining in offering moderately priced food and are considered the largest market in restaurants in countries such as USA and UK. There are different themes that characterize casual style dining from offering Mexican to seafood to Italian cuisines. These restaurants are known to offer table services, the dishes are non disposable and the menu is also moderately priced. Well known examples of casual dining are restaurants such as TGI’s, Tribea and Milano’s. Such restaurants, in addition to being average priced, have a relaxed atmosphere and provide food that is well prepared in using seasonal products that are not expensive. This class of restaurant is considered ideal for a family to eat outside.

Fine Dining Restaurants

Just as the name indicates, fine dining is the term given to describe restaurants that are much upscale in offering dining in a graceful atmosphere along with high standards of service. The cooks and chefs in such restaurants are trained professionally and the quality of food is very high and expensive but considered to be worth it. Such restaurants generally follow a strict code of conduct for customers too in that they are required to comply with the given dress codes. The settings in these places are luxurious and the food is excellent with a number of courses being served by the immaculately dressed waiters who provide the best possible services. These restaurants are considered to be superior and although for wealthy customers they may be an average experience, but for the middle class customers they signify luxurious meals in an elite set up. Typical examples of such restaurants are Bentleys, Thornton’s, Guilbauds and Chapter One.

Gastro Pubs

Gastro Pubs are basically in the nature of being bar restaurants that serve drinks in a relaxed atmosphere with average prices. The menus at these places are compact and offer simple dishes that appeal to most people, such as classic fish and chips along with a wide selection of beers and other drinks. Pubs can also provide full menus along with appetizers in a comfortable atmosphere. Such pubs are considered to be just short of public houses and have existed for over a hundred years in Europe, especially in the UK. Pubs are known to have a laid back atmosphere and form a separate section of many restaurant establishments.


A café is also a restaurant that does not provide table services and customers are expected to order and collect the food from the counter in serving themselves. The menu in a café normally consists of things such as sandwiches, pastries, espresso and coffee. The origin of cafes can be traced to Europe with special links with France and are associated with a casual and leisurely ambience. Cafes also have the unique trademark of providing outdoor seating and Panera Bread is a typical example in this regard. The term bistro is also used to refer to a café and is only slightly different in that it offers full meals at cheaper rates than restaurants.

Working Conditions

While researching on the working conditions of workers in the casual dining restaurants in Dublin, it was found that although some workers were enjoying good pay and working conditions, a majority of them were suffering from being made to work for long hours for less pay and were deprived of their basic rights of getting the minimum wages, over time and holiday pay as provided by the law in Ireland. It was also revealed that there is large scale noncompliance of labor laws in regard to the treatment of such workers.

A large percentage of workers were of the opinion that they were discriminated against and not respected at the place of work and most of them did not complain to the authorities in fear of losing their jobs. Those who had work permits feared that employers would not renew the work permits thus rendering them without a job and then compelled to return to their home country. A sizable number of workers in the restaurant business in Ireland believed that they were treated unfairly and exploited to a great extent (Barrett A., Duffy D, 2007).

While examining the data collected by the RWAG in 2007 in this regard it is found that 50% of workers interviewed said that they worked for six days a week while 4% said they worked all seven days of the week and the average number of days worked by them was 5.5 days in a week. All respondents worked for over nine hours per day and 43% informed of having worked for more than the legal limit of 48 hours per week. Majority of the restaurant workers earned less than the minimum hourly wages as set by the Catering Employment Regulation order in Ireland. 58% of the workers reported earning up to 400 Euros per week while 44% did not ever get a wage increase throughout their career.

Workers in the restaurant industry in Dublin are not prone to get adequate breaks for rest during the day and did not receive the entitled over time allowances for which they stand entitled to. Most of such workers are required to work on Sunday and bank holidays and did not get the additional pay which they are entitled to in this regard. 34% of the workers reported to have not got any annual leave and of those who did get such annual holidays, reported that the entitlement was not always given in full (The Statistical Yearbook of Ireland, CSO, 2008).

The practice of issuing pay slips to employees is not widely prevalent in the restaurant business in Dublin and in most cases workers are not given any terms of employment or written contract to substantiate their rights as and when required. The required tax liabilities are not fulfilled by employers in regard 23% of the workers and the Employment Regulation Order was not followed in letter and spirit at the work place. The restaurant workers are normally housed in over crowded and deplorable conditions by levying a weekly charge that varies from fifty to one hundred euros (Houtman, Andries F, 2002).

Workers on the whole were not found to be a satisfied lot especially in view of the fact that most of them are migrant workers from other countries and expect a minimum level of humane treatment at a place which is at a great distance from their homeland. It is known that they have come all the distance to earn a living and it is not in good taste if they are treated unfairly in being deprived of the bare minimum in terms of the regulated wages and facilities.

There was considerable lack of workplace safety in view of the fact that as many as 16% of them reported to have been injured at work by way of slips and falls in the kitchen, burns, cuts, strain due to excessive lifting of heavy things as also chronic body pain due to working long hours. The deplorable state of the workers can be gauged from the fact that most of them paid heavily to agents and employers to be able to land a job in Dublin. 42% of workers who had work permits had paid for them out of their nose. Of these a majority claimed that they were not handed over with the work permits while some had there passports in the custody of employers.

60% of the restaurant workers informed that they did not get the respect and treatment they deserved from their employers and were unable to assert their rights in the given atmosphere, for they would other wise lose their jobs and legal status of being migrants with work permits (The Statistical Yearbook of Ireland, CSO, 2008). It is a discriminatory practice in Ireland that requires workers with permits to be essentially tied down with working with a specified employer and if the permit is cancelled by the employer, the worker has to return or he will be deported by the authorities.

There are other factors that greatly influence the conditions under which migrant workers live and work in Ireland. Most of them are always under immense financial pressure since they have to support entire families back home in their country. They usually incur huge debts to be able to come all the way to work in Ireland and become reluctant to complain and vent their grievances in fear of losing the job for which they have already paid a hefty sum.

Since most jobs entail the provision of lodging by the employer, workers feel reluctant to complain in fear of losing both job and accommodation. Most workers come from countries where there is rampant corruption in all spheres of life and hence they do not trust the system in Ireland also to successfully resolve their problems. They also become very weak internally and lack confidence in asserting their rights since they are virtually oppressed by way of all their documents being in the custody of the employers (Wright, T. and Pollert, 2005).

In a number of cases the employers have connections in the home countries of the workers, thus being a constant source of fear for them by way of adverse potential consequences for their family members back home. Majority of the restaurant workers in Dublin have been found to be discriminated against at the work place. This is so because of the cross cultural break up of the work force that comes from different countries and under such circumstances there is bound to be a feeling of softness towards a worker of the same nationality or religion. A large percentage of the workers complained of exploitation and unfair treatment at work (Ram M, Abbas, 2001).

Some restaurants do have modern equipment with institutional kitchens and work areas that are convenient but there are several restaurants in Dublin that have old kitchens that are ill equipped and working conditions often depend much on the quantity of food that is prepared in them as also the implementation of the laws applicable in governing the operation of food services. Workers have to tolerate the strain and pressure that goes with working in close quarters, lifting heavy kettles and pots and standing for hours together near hot grills and ovens (Klein Hesselink J, Houtman I, 2004).

Although injuries do not tend to be of a serious nature but they have to cope with frequent incidents of injuries, burns and cuts. Working hours entail working in the early mornings or late nights as also on week ends and holidays. The working environment of cooks, chefs, kitchen workers and waiters may be well scheduled in some places but mostly they have to undergo a rigorous regimen as is evident from the fact that as compared to one out of ten workers having to work on week ends in other sectors of the economy, three out of ten in the restaurant business have scheduled work on these days (Price L, 1994)).

There is no doubt that restaurant workers in Dublin face psychological and physical risks that include long working hours coupled with the social hazards. The sector is characterized by typical working and employment conditions which are reflected in the nature of their contracts and the working time that they have to adhere to. The sector in fact demands more flexibility in working time and conditions. In Ireland there was a noticeable worsening in the working environment from 1995 to 2000 especially in regard to the psychological risks such as the workers’ job autonomy, working hours and job demands (Parent Thirion, 2005).

There are innumerable risks in this context for the workers that need immediate attention in bringing relief to restaurant workers in Ireland. The physical demand on them is extraordinary since they are involved in standing for long hours in static postures and have to carry and lift equipment repeatedly which are most often associated with harsh working environment such as badly designed work places and unhygienic conditions. They are exposed to high levels of noise and have to switch between cold and hot temperatures by way of alternating between warm conditions and cold conditions such as storage rooms. They often have to suffer from falls, slips and trips due to slippery and wet floors and are exposed to dangerous materials such as the increasing use of biological and cleaning agents while preparing food.

Workers also suffer from psychological risks due to the abnormal working hours by way of working in long shifts and most of their work involves time when others are not working. They have difficulty in maintaining their balance between work and life especially in view of their unpredictable working schedule, and their inability to control work schedules. The have to work under time pressure under tight deadlines and have high levels of work load. Work often proves to be monotonous for them with very little scope for creativity and initiative on their part. They do not have adequate support from their peers which further aggravates stress levels.

The continuous contact with customers can result in stress too and further, in some cases to harassment and violence also. They are often not trained and educated exhaustively in their roles which enable employers to exploit them by citing their in competency for the role (Facts, 2009).

In efforts to get opinion of workers in the restaurant industry in Dublin regarding the possible solutions to their woes, they were asked questions relating to the steps required to be taken to solve the given problems. They gave much importance to the need for a change in the work permit system since the non EU workers were helpless in view of vast powers being given to employers in deciding their fate which restricted them in exercising their rights and to speak out openly against their discrimination and hard handedness. Workers felt threatened and bound due the intolerant attitude towards them and feared losing their jobs if they attempted to raise their voice to demand what is due to them.

Workers have the right to apply for Long Term residency status only if they complete five years of working in Ireland after which they can have the freedom to work without a work permit and without restrictions of working with a particular employer. Workers felt that instead of the five years condition for obtaining the permit, there should be changes made so that the period can be reduced or some other regulatory reforms be introduced to curtail their hardships. This would make them feel more strong and confident in standing up for their rights by way of more bargaining power.

The workers conveyed that employment laws for migrant workers should be efficiently enforced by the State by supervising and monitoring the systems in the restaurants and penalize those employees that do not adhere to the instructions. There is also strong need to train employees and employers in regard to the prevailing laws pertaining to rights of workers and their entitlements, such as rules and regulations for safety and health.

Workers need to have a platform from where they can ask for assistance and help as and when they are faced with work related problems. There are several workers in Ireland who are not having proper work permits in being undocumented and they should be regularized since they are not at fault in most cases. They cannot come forward on their own initiative in reporting instances of exploitation by employers due to fear of being deported. The added disadvantage with such workers is that they are considered as vulnerable and can be exploited as cheap labor.

Research Methodology

The restaurant industry in Ireland has changed tremendously over the last ten years and employs a significantly large work force in addition to providing immense potential for growth in the industry. However wages of restaurant workers are still considered to be very low as compared to other sectors in Ireland. The entire restaurant industry in the country is not unionized and it is rare for workers to experience from the benefits of labor regulations especially in regard to migrant workers who account for majority of the work force in this sector. There are very frequent instances of rights violations in the work place and worker exploitation in restaurants (Gabriel Y 1988).

It is in this context that the maximum instances of workplace exploitation as reported to the Migrant Rights Centre, Ireland (MRCI) are from workers employed as restaurant workers in Ireland, a substantial percentage of them being from Dublin. In 2007, the MRCI introduced the Restaurant Working Action Group (RWAG) in order to bring about some form of collective efforts to bring about change for their betterment.

In efforts to bring about a conclusive depiction of the working conditions and environment of restaurant workers RWAG designed and conducted a vast survey that brought within its purview the testimonies of several workers on different parameters of their working conditions. Consequent to the findings from the survey that included strong recommendations to bring about changes in the existing structure of the legal framework in regard to the working of restaurant workers, a suggestion was made to the government to pass the Employment Law Compliance Bill that sought to bring about penalties for all restaurant employers who broke the law in this regard (Barrett A., McCarthy Y, 2006).

The growth of global economic opportunities have brought about large scale migration of the work force and although the economic development in Ireland is seen to bring about over all prosperity but it has brought forth new challenges by way of being dependent of workers who are not of Irish origin (Tansey P, 1998). Every year the number of work permits being issued are increasing at a fast pace and the immigration rate in Ireland is double as compared to the USA. In this scenario it is quite natural that the migration levels in the restaurant sector also will see large scale increase in the number of workers seeking to be employed in restaurants (Gunnigle P 1999).

The restaurant sector too has witnessed incredible growth during the past few years and a population characterized by an increasing percentage in the younger age group along with a stable growth in the tourism industry has further created circumstances conducive to the growth of this industry. It has become a norm amongst the Irish to eat out and the vast choices and number of available restaurants in Dublin has made dining a vibrant culture in the city (McGinnity F., O’Connell P, 2005).

It was found by ARAMARK and Campbell Catering in a survey conducted in 2005 that in Ireland the total spending on eating out far exceeds the amount spent on eating at home for most families. It was estimated that between six to seven billion euros are spent in the country on eating out, and amounts to one out of every seven euros of consumer spending being incurred on eating out. Hence the restaurant industry has come to occupy a pivotal position in the economy. As per the data collected by the Health Services Executive, there are 7194 restaurants and 2332 take away restaurants in the country (Food for Thought,2005).

It is natural that the fast growth in the restaurant sector entails an increased demand for workers within the industry. It cannot be confirmed as to exactly how many workers are employed in the restaurant sector in Ireland in view of the lack of specific facilities for this particular sector. However according to the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) as carried out by the Central Statistics Office in Ireland it was found that there was an increase by 30% in employment in the hotel and restaurant sector between 1998 and 2008 which indicates an increase by 6% in the total labor force of the country (CSO, 2008). Of the total workers in the sector, 41% were male and 59% female while 35.5% were of non Irish origin. It is pertinent to note in this regard that the number of migrant workers have more than doubled from 22700 in 2004 to 47200 in 2008 (Barrett A., Bergin A, Duffy D, 2007).

It is observed that the average yearly earning of hotel and restaurant staff was €22,139 and is the least amongst all sectors of the economy and much below the country’s average of € 37200. The weekly earnings of hotel and restaurant staff were also found to be the lowest as compared to other sectors. According to the findings as evident from the CSO National Employment Survey of 2006, half the workers in the sector earned less than ten euros per hour.

Memberships in Trade Unions in the sector is abysmally low which is evident from the fact that although on an average 47.1% of employees had union membership, only 21% employees in this sector accounted for the same. The current situation is worse since the union membership stands at only 7.8% of the restaurant and hotel workers against the national average of 31.5%. According to findings of the European Foundation for the Improvement in Living and Working Conditions there are several reasons for such lack of memberships in trade unions. There is a high rate of turn over and the tenure of employees in the sector is comparatively very less.

The sector comprises of a high percentage of workers in the younger age group that does not favor participation in trade union activities. The sector is characterized by fragmented establishments by way of small employers, which makes it difficult for workers to be represented in view of the larger efforts required in their being cohesively organized. There is no legal basis in Ireland for trade unions to bargain collectively since an employer in the country is not bound to recognize trade unions despite the employees wanting to negotiate their demands and employment conditions through the offices of the designated trade union (Barrett A., Fitzgerald J., Nolan B, 2002).

The Catering Employment Regulation Orders (ERO) fixes the minimum emoluments of restaurant workers in Ireland as required by the Joint Labor Committees of the Labor Court that have been in existence for about thirty years. The workers in Dublin are covered by the Joint Labor Committees of the County Borough of Dublin and made up of employer and employee representatives. The Committee has a designated Chairman as appointed by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The EROs ascertain the minimum pay and service conditions in regard to restaurant workers.

The ERO fixes the required rates of payment on an hourly basis for the different job categories of workers which includes waiters, general assistants, bartenders, chefs, clerical persons and kitchen laborers. The minimum hourly payments for this sector are a little higher than the national minimum payments. For example, the minimum hourly rate of pay for an experienced cook or chef in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire is €9.27 and €9.15 respectively which is much above the average national hourly minimum wages of €8.65. In regard to overtime, EROs fix rates for the same if a worker works for over the prescribed limit of 78 hours in two weeks. Additiponally, if workers are required to work more than their roistered time they are entitled for extra payment. If a worker is required to work on a day which is off for him, he will be entitled for double pay.

In Dublin, restaurant workers are eligible to get extra payment if they work on Sundays. Employees have the right to take every second Sunday as off and if they are required to work, an additional double payment has to be made to them. Workers are also entitled to have regular breaks of fifteen minutes every four and a half hours and an additional break after working continuously for six hours, although such breaks are not considered for payment.

As per the regulatory provisions workers are protected by way of health and safety laws that intend to ensure welfare, health and safety practices. Employers are bound to arrange for the provision of safety at work and to adopt safe procedures and practices for their workers. They have to provide adequate training and the required information to all restaurant workers. Such legislation is monitored and enforced by the health and safety Authority (Fanning B., Loyal S., Staunton C, 2006).

It is estimated that Ireland will require over six thousand workers for the tourism industry every year and core craft areas such as restaurants, bars and kitchens would suffer shortages of manpower. The Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) has submitted in its reports that there will be problems in finding adequate number of employees to cater to the demand for increased restaurant services. It has noted that the increase in the size of the EU in 2004 did not attract large number of employees as had been anticipated by them and as a consequence the RAIs had to source candidates from non-EU countries.

However, obtaining work permits for such staff was found to be very problematic. At this juncture, the RAI requested that some kind of preferential treatment should be given to the hospitality and catering sector by the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment so as to enable the issue of work permits for waiters and chefs. In 2007, the RAI realized that recruitment of staff was an ongoing concern in regard to the restaurant industry and that the large number of ethnic restaurants further inflated the problem of recruiting skilled staff, especially the chefs.

In consideration of the problems, a special understanding was made by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, concerning the issuing of work permits to chefs vide which it was agreed to validate the holding qualifications of chefs through its Accredited Prior Learning Culinary Programme in order to enable non-EU nationals who came on employment to have their qualifications to be taken as valid, thus guaranteeing that chefs attain the required minimum qualifications as required by the regulations. The minimum level of salary levels to be considered in giving work permits to chefs was decreased to €26,500, which is less than the normally required €30,000.

The Restaurant Workers Action Group (RWAG) of the MRCI is of the opinion that all restaurant workers in Ireland should be given the right to be treated and paid in a fair manner. RWAG mainly comprises of workers who have migrated to the country and includes both men and women, who work in Ireland restaurants. RWAG was set up to counter the high levels of exploitation and unfair treatment experienced by majority of the restaurant workers in Ireland.

The members of RWAG came together to alter such a situation and to work towards improving their employment conditions. RWAG is of the firm opinion that it is possible to run the restaurant business successfully while following appropriate standards as also by enabling working conditions that are in keeping with their expectations. RWAG is aware of the fact that many of the restaurant workers do not get treated in a fair manner and experience several difficulties. They are paid lower than the minimum hourly rates as provided by the law in Ireland and have to often work for long hours without being adequately compensated.

They feel threatened and disrespected in being treated as literal slaves by their employers and have to bear the brunt of their cruelty by way of illegal and unfair salary deductions. If they complain they are intimidated by the employers, but despite the given problems RWAG feels that there is a solution for the workers if they come together in the struggle to win their dignity and rights. In this context RWAG has taken the responsibility to provide information to the workers in regard to their entitlements and rights and to support them in getting such entitlements and rights. It will work towards bringing in laws that improve the workers’ conditions and bring about a strong platform to represent them in their endeavors.

RWAG does not discriminate amongst workers on the basis of race or country of origin and encourages all restaurant workers to enlist with it as members. Presently RWAG has a vast membership representing 21 nationalities, for it was introduced by the MRCI in 2007 in view of the increasing concern for the integration and welfare of restaurant employees who sought the support and help of MRCI in vast numbers. It is also known that almost 40% of the restaurant workers in Ireland are highly aggrieved in regard to their working conditions in reporting to the MRCI about violation of rights at the work place.

Tuadhan Mac (2008) in a report published in the Irish Times has found that there is indiscriminate exploitation of restaurant workers in Ireland in saying that “Some 43 per cent also work more than the legal limit of 48 hours per week, while 85 per cent do not receive overtime rates or extra pay for Sunday work”. In referring to the dismal state of affairs in the country he says that restaurant workers have to live in poor shanties and that, “Suggesting there was a widespread culture of exploitation in the restaurant industry, the organization documented cases of migrants being paid €2 per hour, working in excess of 75 hours per week and suffering threats of deportation or harm to their families if they complained about their treatment”. According to Bill Abom, who is MRCI coordinator for restaurant workers, “These results are shocking.

There are serious problems in how migrant workers are treated in the Irish restaurant industry.” He further adds in the same report of Tuadhan (2008) that, “the greatest reason was fear of losing their job, especially for non-EU workers on work permits, who feared that the employer would not renew their permit and have them deported from Ireland.” All the findings of this report is in keeping with the findings of the National Employment Rights Authority, which stated in its report that almost 76% of all restaurant establishments out of a total of 860 were breaching the employment regulations and guidelines in Ireland. Abom (Tuadhan, 2008) has rightly said in this regard “that success must not be built on the back of exploited workers”. It is recommended by the MRCI in this regard that the labor inspectors must be empowered so as to enable them to impose fines on employers found violating the legal provisions of ensuring proper working conditions for employees.

If the work permits system is altered so that workers are not required to be tied up with a single employer and the permit be so issued to include certain categories of jobs that the worker can do, a lot of hardships can be saved for people coming to the country to contribute in its economic development. This will also do away with the system of paying separate fees each time a worker wishes to change his job category. The largest group of migrant restaurant workers is from Bangladesh and comprise of 17 percent of the workers while Indians form 15% followed by Chinese and Pakistanis (Employment Permits, 2009).

In the context of the severity of the exploitation of restaurant workers in Ireland, the following two narrations are typical examples of the plight of individual restaurant workers:

  • “I came to Ireland in November 2002 to work as a full-time chef at an Indian restaurant. “…I came because I wanted to build a better life and earn money to support my wife and family and help my younger brother to go to university.
  • “I paid €5,000 to my boss to come to work here. He told me I could earn good money in Ireland – about €300 per week.
  • “But when I first started, my salary was €50 per week without any accommodation. I did not receive a contract of employment. He never gave me the original work permit.
  • “My boss made me work 72 hours per week [and] I had to work lunch and dinner shifts every day of the week. I did not have any day off. He would pay me in cash. I never received a pay slip or a P60. He would also make fake business reports to save money from being taxed.
  • “Several times I complained about things – that I wanted proper pay – but he would threaten me that he would cancel my work permit
  • “… It was like mental torture… I worked there for nearly five years. The boss gave me an increase of €25 in my weekly salary every year. In 2007, I was paid €175 per week for 72 hours of work, which is less than €2.50 per hour.
  • “After I left it took me a long time to get the courage to make a complaint. When I did, he phoned my family in Bangladesh. He said to my parents that when I go on holidays to Bangladesh I might have some big problems.”

(Testimony of Jamal from Bangladesh as taken from Exploitation in Ireland’s Restaurant Industry, published by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.)

“I came to Ireland to build a better life. I came to here together with my daughter. I began working for a restaurant in Blanchardstown in County Dublin in January 2007. I got a job there to work as a kitchen porter. I did not receive a contract from my employer. I thought that my pay and hours would be worked out in time. I was desperate to find work because my English was not very good. I was told that I might be working more than 39 hours in a week.

When I started working I actually worked 12-14 hour days, five and sometimes six days per week. I worked every Sunday. The work was very difficult and heavy for me. I would only get breaks when things were not busy. I was not given proper protective clothing like good gloves and aprons to do the work in the kitchen. I felt that there were not proper mats and people were always slipping. The job created a lot of stress for me. A roster was posted up that had all my hours of work on it. But the payslips that I got at the end of the week did not match the number of hours that I actually worked. I was paid €8.00 per hour for every hour that I worked up to 39 hours in a week. For all the hours after that my pay was cut down to €5 per hour. I did not receive any extra pay for work I did on Sundays or on bank holidays.

I was not paid properly for my annual leave days. In the year I worked there I took a two week holiday but was only paid for one week. I felt like I was treated like a dog by my boss and supervisors. They were always yelling at us. The boss and the boss’s wife would say things like ‘you Lithuanians are stupid and crazy’. I felt that we were treated differently than the Irish workers there. They were treated better. They got better hours and they were not bullied by the employer like we were. I was not happy with my working conditions and the way that I was being paid and treated. I raised all of these issues several times with the head chef who was my supervisor. I was told that if I was not happy with my working conditions I could go back to Lithuania and look for better conditions there. After one year I decided that I could no longer take it and I left”.

(Testimony of Edita from Lithuania as taken from Exploitation in Ireland’s Restaurant Industry, published by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.)

Ireland is increasingly becoming a country of immigrants. During the 1990s Ireland not only witnessed substantial increase in foreign direct investment and entry of multinational companies but also of workers from different countries of the world. It was for the first time that in1996 more people entered the country than those who left it and since then net immigration has always been outstripping net emigration. The main reason for the vast majority of people who migrate to Ireland is for the purpose of work, mostly from the new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe.

These people have in fact made it convenient for Ireland in answering its call for additional labour to facilitate efforts in bringing about rapid economic growth. Hence labour migration in Ireland has helped a great deal in sustaining the economy as also in bringing about profound social consequences for the receiving country, the country from where they come and of course the migrants themselves. The increasing migration levels in Ireland have affected all concerned in different aspects which has resulted in considerable change in Irish society. Martin Ruhs (2005) has examined recent immigration trends in Ireland with particular focus on the policy for labour immigration. He has pointed out that the main basis for migration of labour has been the unprecedented demand since the economic boom took off since 1995.

This resulted in a significant increase in the number of migrant workers who came to Ireland. Majority of these workers who were mainly from eastern Asia and Europe entered Ireland on work permits and their numbers gradually began to increase every year. According to Ruhs (2005), these work permit procedures and practices were mainly influenced by employers with little intervention from the state until the year 2003.

However, when the Employment Permits Act of 2003 enabled workers who came from the new EU member states to freely approach the Irish labour market, the Irish authorities began to adopt a more conservative approach in regard to the issue of work permits. Since there was an expectation that most vacancies would be filled up by people from the new states in the EU, Ireland began pursuing a policy of adopting a system whereby restrictive work permits began to be issued. However, as a consequence, although there was a sharp increase in the entry of migrants from the accession states, there was increased need for workers from outside the EU, because of which work permits were reduced in numbers but did not disappear. It is not surprising in this context that it is the better economic opportunities that are the main reasons why most workers migrate to Ireland.

Although many migrant workers receive only the minimum wage, they are still significantly higher than in their countries of origin, notwithstanding the higher living costs in Ireland. The chances of short term economic benefits are the main attractions for migrant workers to endure the harsh working conditions and violation of their rights, especially in the restaurant sector. Since migrant workers are in a vulnerable position, Ruhs (2005) advocated the introduction of adequate regulation in order to protect their rights. As an effective tool he proposed the introduction of flexible work permits in ensuring that migrant workers do not get tied to a particular employer and can have the freedom of movement within the Irish labour market.

Other possible policy changes include the introduction of a fixed immigration system which would open up a new option for non EU citizens to obtain permanent residency in Ireland without the need to become naturalised. Ruhs (2005) has attempted to find solutions to the problem of combating illegal working and immigration by favoring a program that regularizes undocumented workers. He has rightly pointed out that there is very less knowledge about the extent of irregular migration in Ireland Ruhs has offered a detailed overview of the policies in regard to labour immigration in Ireland.

He has convincingly argued the case for adopting a balanced approach while designing these policies that must take into account the interest of the host country, the country that sends the workers as also the migrant workers on an equal platform. While the government has adopted a safe policy in regulating the number of work permit holders, such a proactive approach is also required in providing adequate health and education services for immigrants.

In the context of the deplorable working conditions of the restaurant workers in Ireland and particularly in Dublin, the MRCI is found to be having immense potential in bringing about required changes. There needs to be a policy that introduces changes and improvements by the Irish Government, National Employment Rights Authority, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Department of Social & Family Affairs, Department of Enterprise Trade & Employment, Work Permit Section, The Health and Safety Authority, Restaurant Owners and Employers, Restaurant Association of Ireland, Trade Unions and Restaurant Workers.

The Irish government must bring about fast track introduction of the Employment Law Compliance Bill (ELCB) along with amendments so as to enable inspectors of NERA to impose fines and penalties on the spot on restaurant owners who are found to be breaking the laws in this regard. A possible penalty that can be imposed is the inclusion of high interest penalties along with the total money payable to workers which should be made forcible under the provisions of the law.

The Employment Permits Act 2007 should be amended so as to provide real freedom of movement for all workers who hold work permits so that they are not limited to and solely registered with, one employer as per the current practice. The ideal way to ensure this practice is to issue permits to workers that are specifically required to work in certain job groups in Ireland, and give them total freedom of movement with the same permit amongst different employers in a given sector, without burdening them with new applications and fees if they decide to change their employer.

Legislation is required to be made in the ELCB so that workers can exercise their rights in regard employment matters and ensure that no barriers exist in redressing of their legal problems. If there is any bar on undocumented workers to recover lost wages, it would encourage unscrupulous employers to further adopt the practice since it would be more viable to them financially. Legislation should also be brought about to enable entitlement for collective bargaining for benefits that will accrue to all workers in the country. This would also prevent discrimination against those workers who seek to exercise such options. It is well known and very appropriate to adopt unionisation and collective bargaining since they are a direct and effective means to negotiate with employers to ensure working conditions wages in keeping with the prevalent regulations.

It is however unfortunate that workers in Ireland do not have the facility of rights in regard to collective bargaining and protection in being at the employers’ mercy while initiating collective actions. The state must devise and introduce a system of tax incentives to be made applicable for employers in the restaurant industry who show inclination towards implementing the given guidelines and regulations relating to workers.

The National Employment Rights Authority must continue in its efforts to enforce the standards of employment strictly. NERA inspectors have to be designated and trained in specialized functions pertaining to inspection of restaurants so as to investigate and detect if there are any violations in regard to the working conditions of restaurant workers as also to monitor activities in the entire sector. NERA has to team up with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in providing different options, protection and the requisite social provisions to workers who are more vulnerable and hesitant in coming forth to complain about their adverse working conditions, especially the workers who are in situations of forced labour and having work permits. NERA has to facilitate the translation of the Catering Employment Regulation Orders in the languages that are known to the migrant workers.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform also plays an important role in this regard in providing the legal permissions to those non EU workers who have been rendered undocumented or those that are on the verge of becoming undocumented. The department has also to ensure that legal issues are addressed on the workers’ behalf so that they are not made to suffer from violation of their employment rights or from exploitation.

Department of Social & Family Affairs is required to initiate social welfare schemes on short term emergency basis for all workers who are not from EU states and do not meet the requirements of the Habitual Residency Conditions. It is essential for such workers since they are forced to leave their jobs for no fault of their own and hence must lodge complaints in regard to the violation of their work place rights. This kind of scheme can be applied by the Community Welfare Officers since employees do need a social safety net to endure the exploitation that has come to become an integral characteristic of their working environment. If they are not able to cope with the given adversities they would have no option but to leave their jobs and get back to facing situations of poverty and homelessness.

The Work Permit Section of The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, has to take initiatives in providing the present and future holders of work permits as also the employers in the restaurant sector with copies of the applicable Catering Employment Regulation Orders with the information in regard to the rights and work options of holders of work permits. This would enable the workers to take the requisite action as and when they find their employment rights being violated. The Work permit Section can waive the fee for work permits for workers who desire to change their employers due to violations of their work place rights by them.

The Health and Safety Authority has to take measures by increasing the inspections of the working environment in the restaurants and arrange for interpreters to facilitate effective communication with workers during such inspections. The restaurant owners and employers have to be encouraged to bring about new cultures and attitudinal changes in educating themselves in regard to the labour laws relating to safety and health regulations that govern workers employed with them. They must adopt the practice of treating their workers with fairness and dignity as per the provisions of the law. They should do away with the practices of threatening and retribution of workers as and when they raise issues that impact them at the place of work.

The Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) can increase its efforts in assisting employers of restaurant workers to comply with and understand the safety, health and labour laws and regulations of Ireland by publicizing model practices for employers and by providing them with guidelines to make the entire system more efficient and responsive to a positive working environment. The RAI should work along with trade unions in establishing fair practices and practicing a fair code of conduct and standards in submitting themselves for customary audits and inspections. This initiative will go a long way in acting as a publicly recognized measure to give incentives for compliance of the given guidelines. This practice would give the assurance to restaurant customers that such employers follow decent and fair practices of employment.

Trade unions need to invest their efforts in coming out with creative ways and innovative models to solve the problems related to organizing workers from an effective platform in the restaurant sector. They must continue with their efforts in hiring bilingual organizers to work actively with the workers especially amongst those working in the challenging restaurant sector. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions should also continue with advocating emphatically with the government to introduce policies that provide protection to the migrant workers who are vulnerable in this regard.

The restaurant workers too have a duty to play by way of educating themselves about their entitlements and rights so that they are not exploited for want of the requisite information in regard to their working conditions. They must inform any instances of exploitation either on their own or anonymously so that NERA can initiate necessary remedial actions. They should work in solidarity with other workers in making a stand to improve their over all working conditions and become involved and active with the affairs of the RWAG and the trade unions so as to benefit from organized collective bargaining techniques.

Measures to bring about improvement in the working conditions of restaurant workers in Dublin become all the more imperative in view of the fact that the setting in of recessionary conditions throughout the world are going to adversely impact working conditions in Ireland also. With employers desperate to save as much as possible during the recession, the instances of exploitation of migrant labour is likely to increase. The high discrimination levels of migrant workers in Ireland is the second biggest problem in the country as per reports of the Equality Authority which is evident from the increasing number of cases put up before the tribunal every year (Geraldine Gittens, 2008).

Hence migrant workers are said to be entering a period whereby they face considerable risks of further discrimination in these difficult financial times. All the previous challenges of the country related to periods when there was economic boom, but now things are difficult since there are going to be shortages everywhere, which will entail lesser spending in the restaurant sector also thereby jeopardizing the interests of restaurant workers.

Data Analysis

In efforts to get an authentic and factual position in regard to the working conditions of workers in the casual dining restaurants in Dublin, the people concerned with the operation of these establishments were given questionnaires and requested to answer them on the basis of their immediate spontaneous response as to what struck them as answers upon reading or being asked the given questions. The wide strata of employees and staff as also the employers gave varied responses to the questions and the answers were helpful to a great extent in ascertaining the prevailing circumstances in regard to the work conditions in restaurants. This would enable the authorities to find suitable solutions in keeping with the expectations of all concerned in the sector.

Questionnaires given to Head/Senior Chefs, Junior/Commis Chefs, Waiting Staff, Assistant Managers and other employees

  1. What is your name and what is your age
  2. Which country are you from
  3. Which restaurant do you work in
  4. How much experience do you have
  5. What made you to come to this country
  6. Why did you choose this country to work in
  7. How did you get the present job? Was it through an agent or you tried yourself
  8. Do you have a work permit
  9. If not what is the reason for the same
  10. If you have a work permit, did you get it easily or faced lot of difficulties
  11. How much are you satisfied with the present working conditions in the restaurant
  12. Do you get your wages at regulated rates or less and at what intervals do you get them, i.e weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
  13. Do you get a salary slip or certificate
  14. How many hours are you required to work per week
  15. Are you required to work overtime and on Sundays and holidays
  16. Do you get adequately compensated for the overtime work
  17. Are you given due importance on account of being an experienced and senior chef/junior chef/waiter
  18. Do you feel that your services are recognized and well rewarded by your employer
  19. Do you get annual leave and for how many days
  20. Are you aware of the rules and regulations in regard to conditions of your employment
  21. Are there adequate safety measures adopted in your place of work
  22. Does your employer provide adequate health care facilities
  23. Does your employer provide you with lodging
  24. Do you get regular breaks while working in the restaurant
  25. Does you employer meet the tax liabilities accruing from your employment
  26. Are you treated with respect and dignity by your employer
  27. Have you ever made a complaint to the authorities in Ireland in regard to your working conditions
  28. Do you feel there is any discrimination amongst workers in the restaurant establishments
  29. Are you a member of any trade union
  30. If not, what prevents you from joining a trade union
  31. Are you provided with training opportunities by your employer
  32. What are the improvements you would like to bring about in your working conditions

The above questions were put before respondents in the categories of Head/Senior Chefs, Junior/Commis Chefs, Waiting Staff, Assistant Managers and other employees. All of them gave their basic information related to name, age, country of origin and the reasons for their coming to Dublin for employment. Since Dublin is the capital of Ireland, it is considered the ideal place for workers in the restaurant sector to seek employment in view of the immense popularity amongst people to eat out during family outings and amongst youngsters to grab a quick bite during the occasional times when they wish to have a change from the fast food outlets that they frequently visit.

Dublin has a vast potential for employment of restaurant staff especially in view of the frequent changes in staff brought about by employers due to a large work force that does not have work permits and have become undocumented workers. In this sense there is always an available vacancy for such restaurant workers to get employed immediately although the working conditions may not be in keeping with the provided regulations.

Having no other alternative these workers become willing to take up immediate employment that in most cases does not provide the minimum wages but since they have to survive in an alien land, the willingness is always there to earn a livelihood on the given terms that are often exploitative in nature. Although senior chefs informed of being better placed in terms of getting the minimum wages in most cases, the majority of junior chefs and waiting staff were employed without any contracts and their movement across restaurants was found to be more frequent. Senior chefs enjoyed adequate respect and recognition for the services rendered by them in view of their specialized work since experienced chefs are not abundantly available at short notice in Ireland. They were under contractual employment and were given salary slips as also the few incentives that go with such employment such as health care and leave facilities.

Their overtime work was also adequately compensated for much in contrast to the junior chefs and waiters who claimed they had to work for long hours that included the morning and evening shifts with hardly any breaks being given to them. Junior staff were rarely given any leave even to visit there home country and whenever they wished to leave for their home country to visit their family they often had to leave the job and search for another upon their return. They informed of being able to get fresh employment within a few days of their return in view of their inability to canvass for the minimum wages and which was exploited by employers.

From the responses of the employees it was found that there are high levels of discrimination and esploitation by employers as also by senior staff towards the juniors in regard to working conditions and preference being given to particular races and country of origin of workers. It is evident from the following reply that one respondent gave in regard to the working atmosphere, “I am at most times treated very badly. The employer always shouts at me and reprimands us for the smallest of mistakes and sometimes without any faults. He threatens to cancel my work permit if he doesn’t like what I do.

He literally implies that we are free to leave if we do not obey what he wants us to do, and the treatment is very humiliating”. Another worker responded by saying, “the bosses are never satisfied with what the workers do. We never get any appreciation for the hard work we do for such long hours”. Yet another was highly depressed in conveying that, “The employer thinks that he is doing me a favour by arranging for my documents and thus does not want to give me payment for my leave which is very much due to me. The workers in most restaurants were not satisfied with the treatment meted out to them at the hands of their employers.

They appeared to be helpless in tolerating the hard handedness and exploitation due to their weaknesses in being dependent on employment in view of the large number of workers in standby to replace them if they left employment. In this context one worker said, “We are repeatedly abused by the employer although we work for long hours without adequate breaks being given to us. We have come to believe that our services are not respected”.

One worker who was very much demoralized with the state of affairs said in regard to his plight, “I worked with my employer for about five years. The employer gave me an increase of €25 in the weekly payment every year. In 2007, he paid me €175 per week for 72 hours of work, which is lesser than €2.50 per hour. I was given only five weeks holiday in May 2005, which too without any pay, during the five years that I worked there”.

Most of the workers did not make complaints to the authorities in regard to their ill treatment at the hands of employers due to threats from them in regard to letting them off the jobs. They were found to be under constant fear of loosing their status as workers in the country since the permit restricts their choice of working only at the place of the employer who has obtained the permit for them. Most workers also informed that they did not make any complaints since they were not aware of the procedure and of the authority to be approached to get their grievances addressed. One worker responded by saying that “by making a complaint I would lose my job, because I am dependent on him for the work permit. We have to tolerate the ill treatment till the time we become eligible fort long term residency after working for five years.”

Another worker said “I should not make a complaint because I need reference from my employer in the future for the next appointment.” Some workers felt there was no cooperation amongst the workers as a whole and there was lot of back biting by way of workers working against each other, “I don’t want to get into unnecessary problems and complications. The other workers will not support me in the complaint because they feel scared that the may end up losing their own jobs or permits or because they may be having close relations with the employer.” One of the respondents was so disillusioned with what happened “I complained and the family of the boss has warned my people in my country that if I do not withdraw the complaint, I will have lot of problems in Ireland.”

Majority of the workers were of the opinion that there was large scale discrimination and exploitation at the work place, but did not prefer to become members of trade unions due to lack of initiatives from trade unions in organizing them from a single platform in resolving their problems. This was said to be due to the large number of fragmented restaurant establishments which made it difficult for trade unions to organize the workers.

Questionnaires given to Employers of Restaurant Workers

  1. What is your name (Not mandatory)
  2. What is the name of your restaurant (Not Mandatory)
  3. How many workers do you employ
  4. What is the break up your employees on the basis of country of origin
  5. Why do you feel that migrant workers are better suited for the restaurant jobs
  6. How do you recruit your workers
  7. Do you assist your workers in getting work permits
  8. What are the problems you face with your workers
  9. Do you manage to get work permits for your workers easily
  10. What problems you face with the authorities in regard to working conditions of your workers
  11. Do your workers meet up with your expectations
  12. What is the reason for the large number of undocumented workers
  13. Do you provide workers with pay and facilities as per the regulations
  14. Do you favour trade unions for collective representation of workers
  15. Do you facilitate learning and training for your workers

Most of the restaurant owners who were approached in this regard were not found to be open in freely giving their opinion in matters relating to working conditions of their employees, which clearly indicated that they did not wish to commit themselves in regard to the practices being followed by them. Most of them opted to not give their personal details such as name and the name of their restaurant. There were different set of employees depending on the size of the establishment, and since most restaurants in Dublin falling under the category of “casual dining” are of different sizes depending upon their location and popularity, employers gave varied answers in regard to the number of workers employed by them. Usually, restaurants in the category of “casual dining” employ waiters, chefs, assistant managers and kitchen staff.

Except for the senior chefs, most restaurant staff are from the category of undocumented workers who keep leaving frequently only to be replaced by others of the same category. Workers who migrate from the EU states were in most cases well paid and taken care of by the employers, but this was found to be more prevalent in the very well established and successful restaurants enjoying customer loyalty from a large percentage of the Dublin clientele. Most of the employers favoured to employ migrant workers because employing their own countrymen would entail a host of extra facilities and worker incentives to be given to them in being covered under the several welfare schemes of the state. Hence employing migrants proves to be more economical especially in the context of low profit margins in an increasing competitive environment.

The food business is very profitable in Dublin primarily due to the increasing number of households that have started to increase there spending on eating out. But at the same time an increasing number of entrepreneurs have entered the restaurant business in recent times due to the high profit margins that were visible initially. More competition has implied the implementation of a competitive price structure for the food prices especially in the “casual dining” restaurants. This requires reduction in costs by restaurant owners and employing migrant workers at low wages is considered to be a major way in this regard.

Employers were hesitant to arrange for and take responsibility for workers by sponsoring them for work permits as that would entail a lot of formality compliances for them in addition to their being answerable for any violation of the regulations pertaining to their working conditions.

Hence employers prefer to keep workers who can be hired at ease and removed if not found to be as per their expectations. It is for this reason that they do not take much pain to get proper documents for the workers and prefer to stay away from the hassles in this regard. The replies of the few employers who opted to respond to the given questions, were clear in indicating that if there is a convenient option for them by way of getting undocumented workers and those without permits, what was the need for them to get involved with the extra work load, especially when they could get them at lower wages without much voices being raised by the state in the absence of fool proof documentation requirements. In the circumstances they do not feel the need to train them further not do they prefer to have them organized into trade unions.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There has been a worldwide increase in migration of workers with the growth of the global economic activities and although such increase has been taken positively, new challenges have surfaced in regard to the welfare of migrant workers in Ireland. Ireland was once regarded as a state from where people emigrated to different parts of the world, but the pattern has now changed over the last decade whereby the immigration rate in the country has proved to be more than that of the USA.

There are two distinctive images of migrant workers in Ireland; on the one side these workers are considered a source of inexpensive labour that is easily available, and on the other hand the skilled amongst them are considered as being pivotal in the country’s efforts to attain rapid economic development. However the labour immigration policy in Ireland is faulty on several accounts and needs to be scrutinized critically by seasoned hands so as to assess the degree to which unions and employers can bring about integration of these workers within the labour market of Ireland. The studies of this report have concluded that there is an immense lack of integration of the labour market in regard to the migrant workers in the restaurant business and there exists large scale exploitation and abuse of power by employers that is further aggravated by the presence of a work permit system that is legally restrictive.

There is very limited role of trade unions in the present set up in the organizations of the restaurant workers, which too is a result of the state legislations and misuse of employer powers. It is also felt that solutions to the given problems cannot be found by relying only on change in attitude and interventions by employers since it will adversely impact functioning of restaurants and profitability for owners. There is a strong tendency in the migrant labour market for economic needs of employers to surpass the social objectives towards the migrant workers.

In Ireland, migrant workers in restaurants have come to become the largest group that has reported exploitation at the work place to the Migrant Rights Centre, Ireland (MRCI). The present study has also found that there is large scale exploitation of restaurant workers in Ireland and the facts and figures that have emerged in this regard are quite alarming in that immediate remedial measures must be undertaken to resolve the crisis.

There is urgent need to make changes in the system since it is important to have a successful restaurant industry but such success should not be achieved by exploiting the migrant workers. It is very much possible to enable the restaurant business to be very successful by pursuing a policy whereby good working conditions are provided and proper standards are followed. The present misfortune lies in the fact that it is economical for restaurant owners to employ migrant workers who are undocumented or without permits since they can be exploited into working for them on lower wages. But this way the workers’ rights are violated and they cannot come forward before the authorities in fear of losing their jobs and livelihood in a country which is new to them.

The only penalty that can be imposed on employers for violation of the workers’ rights is that they have to just repay the amounts to workers that have been paid short, while there is great risk for the worker to lose his job if he makes a complaint to the authorities. It is thus imperative that the unequal balance be removed in the work place in regard to exploitation of the migrant workers.

The government must pass the Employment Law Compliance Bill along with necessary amendments so as to give Inspectors in the labour department authority to fine employers found violating the law in this regard. The Employment Permits Act 2007 should be amended so as to provide workers with freedom to move from one employer to another so as to avoid being dependent on a single employer. Legislation is required to be made in the ELCB so that workers can exercise their rights in regard employment rights and to ensure that no barriers exist in redressing of their legal problems.

If there is any bar on undocumented workers to recover lost wages, it would encourage unscrupulous employers to further adopt the practice since it would be more viable to them financially. The state can motivate employers by devising and introducing a system of tax incentives to be made applicable for employers in the restaurant industry who show inclination towards implementing the given guidelines and regulations relating to workers. The National Employment Rights Authority has an important role to play and should continue in its efforts to enforce the standards of employment strictly. NERA inspectors have to be designated and trained in specialized functions pertaining to inspection of restaurants so as to investigate and detect if there are any violations in regard to the working conditions of restaurant workers as also to monitor activities in the entire sector.

It is expected of The Department of Social & Family Affairs to initiate social welfare schemes on short term emergency basis for all workers who are not from EU states and do not meet the requirements of the Habitual Residency Conditions. It is essential for such workers since they are forced to leave their jobs for no fault of their own and hence must lodge complaints in regard to the violation of their work place rights. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, has to take initiatives in providing the present and future holders of work permits as also the employers in the restaurant sector with copies of the applicable Catering Employment Regulation Orders with the information in regard to the rights and work options of holders of work permits. This would enable the workers to take the requisite action as and when they find their employment rights being violated.

The Health and Safety Authority cano take measures by increasing the inspections of the working environment in the restaurants and arrange for interpreters to facilitate effective communication with workers during such inspections. The restaurant owners and employers have to be encouraged to bring about new cultures and attitudinal changes in educating themselves in regard to the labour laws relating to safety and health regulations that govern workers employed with them. Trade unions are required to make further efforts in coming out with creative ways and innovative models to solve the problems related to organizing workers from an effective platform in the restaurant sector. They must continue with their efforts in hiring bilingual organizers to work actively with the workers especially amongst those working in the challenging restaurant sector.


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