A new report by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has revealed that almost half of agricultural workplaces in Ireland were in violation of employment law last year. Out of the 49 agricultural employers inspected during 2021, 23 were found to be in breach of employment law, accounting for 47% of the total. The WRC report, which was published on May 9th, also disclosed that the commission had recovered €14,416 in unpaid wages for employees in the sector as a result of its inspections. The agriculture sector, as defined by the WRC report, includes forestry, fruit and vegetable farms, livestock farms, and poultry.
In addition, the WRC report highlighted that it “continues to be active in the meat sector”. Specifically, 23 employers in the meat processing sector were inspected during 2021, both announced and unannounced, and 18 (78%) were found to be in breach of employment law. As a result of these inspections, €6,078 in outstanding wages was recovered for employees. This marks an increase from the WRC report for 2020, which showed that 60% of those inspected in the meat processing sector had breached employment laws. It’s worth noting that last year, five meat processing plants were inspected, and no unpaid wages were recovered.
The WRC also participated in the 2022 EMPACT (European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats) joint days of action, in which 172 inspections were carried out by the commission. During the campaign, 171 contraventions of legislation were detected, and inspectors specifically carried out inspections throughout Ireland on employers operating within the agricultural sector. Overall, a total of 28 unannounced inspections were undertaken, and 17 contraventions of employment legislation were detected.
The WRC annual report for 2022 highlights that 36 different sectors were inspected. Nine out of the 18 (50%) in the fishing sector, seven out of the two (29%) in the veterinary and animal health sector, and four out of the four (100%) in equine activities were found in breach of employment law. On a larger scale, 636 out of the 1,390 (46%) in the food service activities were also in breach of employment law.
The WRC report’s findings are concerning, particularly in light of the ongoing debate surrounding the treatment of workers in the agricultural sector. The agriculture industry has long been criticized for its reliance on low-paid, often migrant, workers, who are frequently subject to poor working conditions and exploitation. The WRC’s report suggests that these issues are still prevalent in the sector.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has called for stronger enforcement of employment laws to protect workers in the agricultural sector. In a statement, the ICTU said: “The report from the WRC highlights the need for stronger enforcement of employment rights in the agricultural sector. The sector has a long history of exploitation, and it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that workers are treated fairly and with dignity.”
The WRC report is a reminder of the importance of ensuring that all workers in Ireland are treated fairly and with respect. The agricultural sector is a vital part of the Irish economy, and it is essential that those working in the sector are protected by robust employment laws and regulations. The findings of the WRC report should serve as a wake-up call to employers in the sector, and to policymakers, to take action to address the issues raised by the report.