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Campaign starts to protect rights of domestic workers

Resource type: News

Irish Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Jamie Smyth, Social Affairs Correspondent.  PEOPLE EMPLOYING domestic workers such as nannies, housekeepers and cleaners are being actively targeted for inspections for the first time under a new campaign undertaken by the National Employment Rights Authority.

A pilot phase of inspections will begin in the mid-west region next month to ensure people working in private homes are getting paid at least the minimum wage and enjoying basic labour rights such as annual leave and a contract.

The authority, which is the State watchdog set up to monitor and secure employers’ compliance with employment law, is launching the campaign in response to concerns expressed by NGOs that some domestic workers are working in “slave-like” conditions.

Earlier this year, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland highlighted several cases where migrants working in people’s homes had been exploited by their employer. In one case, a housekeeper from Malawi, Anele Jakiel, was awarded €33,000 compensation by the Labour Relations Commission due to a serious violation of her employment rights.

The authority’s regional office in Shannon is leading the pilot inspection regime, which will undertake 50 inspections of employers. It will then extend inspections to other regions. Unlike standard workplace inspections, inspectors cannot enter a person’s home without their consent to check conditions.

However, inspectors have the right to interview an employer and employee at a location outside the home and to demand access to documentation.

The authority will choose which employers to inspect based on an analysis of the national database of employers to try and identify people employing domestic workers in the home. It will also identify employers from the 458 work permits issued to domestic workers and respond to complaints made directly by domestic workers about members of the public.

Irish laws protecting domestic workers offer them broadly the same rights as all other workers. For example, they are entitled to the minimum wage, a written contract stating terms of employment and a higher rate of pay if they work on Sundays.

Penalties for breaching these rights include fines of up to €50,000 and, in severe cases, imprisonment.

Siobhán O’Donoghue, director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, welcomed the decision to inspect private homes for the first time.

“This gives formal recognition that the private home can also be a workplace, and that domestic workers need the full protection of the law and to have their rights monitored and enforced.”

Migrant Rights Centre Ireland is an Atlantic grantee.

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