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Ireland in breach of UN Forced Labour Convention

category national | rights, freedoms and repression | opinion/analysis author Saturday February 20, 2016 10:07author by Vince McGreal Report this post to the editors

In 1932, Ireland ratified the United Nations’ Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (1930). The Convention defines forced labour as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”
Eighty-four years later, Ireland is in breach of that convention.

In 2012, Pathways to Work policy statement, largely copied from the UK, was adopted and signed, among others, by Enda Kenny and Joan Burton. Apart from providing training and education for the unemployed, which have been available long before 2012, the activation system offers them not real jobs but year-long JobBridge “internships” and “apprenticeships” as cleaners and porters. Such offers of practically unpaid (a little more than one euro an hour) work disguised as training now cannot be refused, because they are backed up with sanctions: it can be either a cut of €44 from the weekly €188, or even the suspension of payments for up to nine weeks, which exposes people to starvation, hypothermia and debt. These are the penalties for not volunteering to do unpaid work for businesses, or an analogue of community service on the Gateway and Tús schemes that include cleaning and renovating council-owned buildings and parks. One previously had to commit an offence to be sentenced to this!

Incredibly, this matter hasn’t yet become a major issue in the general election campaign. The mainstream politicians are seemingly happy to allow such treatment of their own countrymen to continue. We are about to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising, but the society plagued with forced labour is not exactly what the heroes of 1916 fought for. Officially, people pressed into doing unpaid work are classed as employed, so the unemployment rate falls. One may think that we are trying to imitate the Roman Empire where all were happily employed – as either slave owners or slaves.

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