A high profile Sligo restaurant chain owner has been ordered to pay a worker €91,000 for gross exploitation which has been likened to slavery. The 'slave' worker was paid just 51c an hour and allowed one day off a year
The Labour Court has ordered Poppadom restaurant chain owner Amjad Hussein to pay Pakistani chef Muhammad Younis €91,000 over breaches of employment rights.
The Poppadom Sligo branch O'Connell Street is a popular venue for Indian cuisine.
According to the Irish Independent, Mr Younis said he was forced to work 77 hours a week as a Tandoori chef at Poppadom takeaway in Clondalkin, Dublin with Christmas Day his only time off during the seven years he worked there.
During that time he was paid just 51c an hour between 2002 and 2005, although he secured increases to €4.46 an hour in 2005 and €6.25 an hour in 2006, all well below the minimum wage.
Mr Younis said he was also forced to work without any contract, tax or social contributions being paid, and his employer failed to renew his work permit or his passport as promised, leaving him undocumented.
He shared an overcrowded house in Leixlip provided by Mr Hussein.
He eventually left the job in 2009 and approached the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) for assistance.
Rulings by the Labour Court this month have upheld previous Rights Commissioner rulings that Mr Younis should be paid €86,134 in back pay owed to him by his former employer under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 and €5,000 under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.
However, Mr Younis may now face another legal battle to get his money, as the MRCI said it may have to seek an order for payment from the Circuit Court if Mr Hussein fails to pay up what he owes.
Mr Younis told the Irish Independent he was desperate to get the money he was owed as he has a wife and nine children at home to support. He has not seen his family since he came to Ireland in 2002.
He said that while he was working at Poppadom between 2002 and 2009, he despaired for his future. "The exploitation I suffered put me in a deep, dark well. I felt I had no hope for my future and no way out," he said.
He is currently living in a hostel on the equivalent of an asylum seeker's allowance of €19.80 a week, and has been seeking a new job to secure a work permit.
The case is one of 150 taken by the MRCI in the past six years -- including five cases this year -- for a variety of workers including domestic and restaurant staff, farm and circus workers.
"The gross exploitation and chronic conditions that Mr Younis suffered constitute forced labour.
"In Ireland there is no legal punishment for forced labour and so the only remedy open to Mr Younis was to pursue breaches of employment law," said Grainne O'Toole of the MRCI.
Ireland was in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to bring in legal protection against slavery and forced labour, she added.
Mr Hussein did not respond to requests for a comment.
Although the Poppadom website still boasts of its 'Multi-Award Winning Indian Cuisine', the chain has not flourished in recent times.
The outlet in Castleknock closed down abruptly a couple of months ago, as did the Rathgar outlet.
A member of staff at the Newlands Cross outlet in Dublin 22 said that it and the Sligo shop were the only remaining branches.