Tuesday: print this and we'll sue. Wednesday: company admits abuse

By Michael O'Farrell, Political Reporter

THE company at the centre of a migrant labour scandal in Dublin's Port Tunnel was yesterday forced to back down and has vowed to give workers the same pay and conditions as Irish labourers.

The move follows revelations in yesterday's Irish Examiner that Polish-based company Format Industrial Construction Ltd is paying its workers half that of their Irish counterparts.

Under the Format contract, workers are entitled to free accommodation and flights home but do not receive holiday pay and overtime.

Instead of the agreed industry standard of over €15 an hour, received by Irish workers, the Polish employees are paid just over €8 an hour.

However, Format attempted to suppress yesterday's article and instructed Seamus Maguire and Co solicitors to issue a letter threatening to initiate High Court actions against the Irish Examiner should the article go ahead.

"In the event that you proceed to print information which is damaging and defamatory we will issue High Court proceedings without further notification," the letter reads.

A second letter from Seamus Maguire and Co later acknowledged the Irish Examiner's confirmation that it had endeavoured to give Format an opportunity to comment.

The letter also requested sight of the article - a request which was refused.

But following an initial meeting yesterday - between Format, SIPTU and the consortium building the tunnel - two separate union officials emerged saying that Format had agreed to comply fully with Irish labour laws and make backpayments to its workers.

SIPTU construction official Eric Fleming said Format had agreed to pay backpay and hire an Irish labour lawyer to assist them in becoming compliant.

"They have agreed the principle of all this. They are to go off now tomorrow and come back with all their sums. They came out waving a white flag and said we are now giving an absolute guarantee that we will conform," he said.

SIPTU official Dave Morris also confirmed that Format had made a commitment to comply with Irish labour law. "They have confirmed that Format will conform and make good any outstanding payments," he said.

Neither Format nor the tunnel consortium Nishimatsu Mowlem Irishenco (NMI) would confirm the agreement last night when contacted.

NMI official Richard Kirkman said: "We are following procedures. We have been made aware of an issue. We have investigated it the following day and we will conclude that investigation tomorrow."

A Format official declined to comment last night pending the arrival of the company's president, Warsaw-based Wojciech Mikulecki, today.

As the Government's labour inspectorate launched an investigation, Polish Consul Malgorzata Kozik said labour exploitation extended to thousands of workers.

"I am really frustrated by the way Irish employers treat Polish workers. We seem to be the people with no rights," she said.

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