10 Aug 2022

Portuguese workers living in Tipperary treated appallingly by employers awarded more than €1 million

Workers treated appallingly by employers awarded more than €1 million

The High Court has awarded more than €1m damages and interest to a group of Portuguese workers who claimed they lived in "terrible conditions" at a "work camp" provided by former employers when they were building a section of the N7 motorway in 2007 and 2008.

The award was made by Ms Justice Carmel Stewart, who said the workers were "treated appallingly by their employers".  

Noting that the workers had been working in Ireland for periods up to two years, the judge said that "it beggars belief that their ordeal could have lasted for so long".

The 20 workers claimed they were underpaid while working for three Portuguese companies called the RAC Eire Partnership that were contracted to construct the section of motorway between Limerick and Nenagh, County Tipperary.

A number of related cases taken by others who worked on the road project have previously been before the courts.

The judge found the workers, who are represented by David McGrath SC instructed by solicitor Tom O'Regan, are entitled to damages for breach of contract.

They had also claimed that deductions were taken by the employer from their wages for accommodation and laundry were not reasonable or fair and their accommodation was not of a reasonable standard.

They further alleged their employers maintained fraudulent records of the hours they worked.

The award was made against Portuguese-based Rosas Construtores SA, Constructocoes Gabriel AS Couto SA and Empresa Deconstrucoes Amandio Carvalho SA - all trading under the title RAC Contractors or RAC Eire Partnership. 

The defendant partnership was not represented in court, and the claims were uncontested.

In her decision, the judge said the workers who gave evidence before the court were "decent hardworking individuals" who were "entirely blameless" in the events that unfolded since the contract was awarded to build the road in 2006. 

They had come to Ireland to support themselves and their families. "They were treated appallingly by their employers."

The judge praised the work of the State authorities in their works to "regularise the defendant's enterprise", adding that "the defendants had fought them every step of the way".

Their working conditions were brought to light following investigations conducted by the National Employment Rights Authority, the judge said. 

Their employers, the judge said, were found in breach of numerous employment regulations including the Organisation of Working Time Act. The worker, she said, had worked far in excess of what the defendant's worksheets had indicated.

Ms Justice Stewart said evidence was given that the Portuguese workers lived in a cramped prefab building, with between six to eight people per room.

The facility, which had been located at a rural townland outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was also a fire hazard, she said.  

The judge said there was no drinkable water at the accommodation, the showers didn't work all the time and there was a smell from where wastewater from the facility flowed.  

"The washing facilities provided by the defendants were unfit for any living thing, least of all human beings," the judge said, adding that the conditions resulted in the worker's health being affected.

The judge also accepted that the defendants had made "extortionate deductions from the worker's wages". 

Those deductions supposedly went towards items including their food that was insufficient to properly feed the workers and accommodation that was not fit for purpose, the judge said.  

In all the circumstances, the judge said the workers in these cases were entitled to damages of €818,000 between them.

However, the court will make a final award when interest is added to that figure. It is expected that the final award will exceed €1m. 

The matter will be mentioned before the court in the new year. 

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