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Migrants used as ‘scapegoats’, conference told

Resource type: News

Irish Times |


THE GOVERNMENT has been accused of using migrant workers as “convenient scapegoats” to distract from the State’s employment problems.

Migrant Rights Centre director Siobhan O’Donoghue said there were hints that the work permit system was to be reviewed and she said this would merely increase the number of illegal workers.

Some 13,000 work permits were issued last year and Fianna Fail backbencher TDs Noel O’Flynn and Ned O’Keeffe have called on the Government to review the issuing of permits to people from outside the European Union.

“Thirteen thousand work permits are going to distract us again from the real issue of huge employment problems that this country is facing, by somehow or other blaming 13,000 people,” Ms O’Donoghue said.

She said there was a preoccupation with separating the person from their labour. It was easy to be against migrants when they were seen as providers of labour, and not as people, or neighbours. Employers were also distancing themselves from workers with the use of contract companies. If major companies were found to have staff working for them who had been trafficked, they could deny responsibility by saying the workers were employed by subcontractors or agencies.

Ms O’Donoghue was speaking at a conference in Dublin on working conditions for migrants, organised by the Migrant Rights Centre.

Earlier the conference heard that the global recession had led to the “really shocking” collapse of trade and outsourcing as countries retreated into themselves.

BBC Newsnight’s economics editor Paul Mason highlighted the collapse in manufacturing exports in particular. “So South Korea, China and Japan are all seeing a 40 per cent annual rate of collapse of their exports,” he said.

He asked if people really wanted to retreat to closed markets and protectionism.

“[We need to talk] about what migrant workers mean, what it means to have your food replaced and your culture replaced by other people’s culture,” he said.