ABSTRACT

Introduction The Irish migration experience at the beginning of the twenty-first century was quite extraordinary. Within the space of a decade, the country’s share of foreignborn population doubled to over 17 per cent (OECD, 2011, p. 385). In the context of an open labour market and an unprecedented economic boom, Ireland attracted large-scale migration from the new EU member states (NMS). Since EU enlargement in 2004, more than half a million citizens from the NMS, in particular from Poland, have arrived in the country. While this migration contributed to economic growth during the boom years, it also raised concerns about social dumping and a ‘race to the bottom’ in relation to employment conditions. Although the boom came to an abrupt end in 2008, compliance with wage agreements and employment regulations remains a significant challenge in the ‘postCeltic Tiger’ era. This chapter explores the impact of recent mass migration upon labour standards in Ireland. It focuses specifically upon two employment sectors – construction and hospitality – that have been major destinations for NMS migrants. Drawing upon qualitative interviews with Polish migrants and Irish firms,1 the chapter shows that employers have frequently used migrant labour as a costcutting strategy in what may be classified as instances of social dumping. However, these practices have varied, depending on the regulatory environment and the role of unions in each sector. In construction, where unions are a powerful force, social dumping mainly involved the breach of collective agreements through subcontracting arrangements at the more informal fringes of the sector. In hospitality, by now largely de-unionized and characterized by an informal work culture, social dumping was often synonymous with noncompliance with existing employment regulations. More generally, both sectors experienced growing casualization of employment in the context of social dumping practices. While this was primarily an employer-driven strategy, migrants did not necessarily perceive the casualized employment relationship as a disadvantage, especially when the job was seen as

only transitional and comparisons were made to Poland. However, the longer they stayed in the country, the more assertive migrants became about their employment rights, sometimes assisted by the unions. While some migrants were able to negotiate better working conditions during the boom years, the 2008 recession fundamentally transformed the labour market situation in Ireland. In times of rising unemployment, the bargaining position of employers strengthens as domestic and foreign workers alike struggle increasingly to meet growing demands for more flexibility in pay and working practices. The chapter proceeds as follows. It first outlines the context of mass migration to Ireland and subsequent attempts to re-regulate the labour market. It then presents evidence from the two sectors to illuminate the experiences of migrants and the strategies of employers at the micro level. The chapter concludes by discussing the future of labour standards in post-boom Ireland, which continues to host a substantial migrant workforce.