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Gonzalez-Perez, M.A., McDonough, T, & Dundon, T., Labour Relations Practices and Migrant Workers in Ireland, CISC Working Paper No: 22, December 2005

The growth of global economic activity has resulted in a world-wide increase in migration. This economic expansion has been welcome but at the same time has brought new challenges. Ireland, once regarded as a country of emigration, is now an economy dependent on the labour of non-Irish workers. In 2003 over 47,000 work permits were issued. In comparative terms, Ireland�s current rate of immigration per capita is double that of the United States. Yet, there are two contrasting images of non-national workers in Ireland. On the one hand, non-Irish national workers are viewed as a source of cheap labour, easily disposable and found in the tertiary labour market. On the other hand there exists the image of such workers as highly skilled and central to Ireland�s economic boom of recent years. Despite conflicting media reports, there remains little detailed research on labour relations practices as experienced by non-Irish workers.

The main aims of the research were to subject Irish labour immigration policy to critical scrutiny, and to assess the extent to which employers and unions may facilitate the integration of non-Irish workers into the labour market. The research methodologies were principally ethnographic, including both participant and non-participant observations, interviews with key informant groups (unions, immigration policy experts, employers and managers, and non-Irish workers) as well analysis of documentary sources (such as union policies, state agency and chambers of commerce literature).

The findings show a significant lack of labour market integration and employment exploitation for non-Irish workers. The main explanatory factors include an explicit abuse of employer power coupled with a restrictive legal work permit system. Moreover, the Irish labour market conjurers up not an image of a booming Celtic Tiger economy, but rather a reality of near-serfdom and social and economic exclusion. Trade union organising capacity is found to be limited to areas of social justice, owing to state legislation and employer power. In the light of these findings, it is argued that the case for greater labour market integration and equality cannot rely on voluntarist employer interventions. To do so means profitability and product market contingencies override other social and economic needs. Social justice is itself a valuable objective, irrespective of short-term business demands.

Migrant Workers, Ireland, Labour Relations, Immigration Policy.

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