Labour Inspectorate controls, Ireland


Target Groups: 


Ireland’s Labour Inspectorate plays a major role in regulating the Employment Permits Acts to prevent undeclared work relating to the illegal employment of foreign workers. Inspections also provide an opportunity to inform employers of the requirements of legislation, discuss best practice for compliance and deal with queries they may have.



The main sectors in Ireland that are affected by undeclared work are those that are labour-intensive, and where cost competition is pronounced, particularly construction, domestic services, hotels and catering, agriculture, retail, and the food and drink industry. The presence of numerous small and medium-sized enterprises in the Irish economy is also a factor in the growth of undeclared work. A key factor contributing to the rise in undeclared work is the potential cost savings available to employers, as well as workers - for instance, in relation to tax and social security contributions. It is evident that many employers in these sectors have used foreign migrant labour to reduce costs, and such workers tend to have fewer employment rights and less protection.


Policing of the Employment Permits Acts by Ireland’s Labour Inspectorate (National Employment Rights Authority, NERA).

Specific measures

NERA labour inspectors conduct workplace inspections to ensure compliance with employment rights legislation. Inspections also provide the opportunity to inform employers of the requirements of legislation, discuss best practice for compliance and deal with queries they may have. In general, inspections are carried out under the under the following legislation: National Minimum Wage Act 2000, Payment of Wages Act 1991, Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996, Employment Permits Acts, Industrial Relations Acts.

Using NERA’s annual review of its activities in 2011 (January to December 2011), this factsheet specifically summarises the role of the Labour Inspectorate in policing the Employment Permits Acts to prevent undeclared work by non EEA (European Economic Area) foreign nationals and associated employer exploitation. NERA inspectors are authorised officers under the Employment Permits Acts. Compliance checks under this legislation are now an integral element of all NERA inspections.

The principal purpose of the Employment Permits Acts, 2003 and 2006, is to provide for the regulation of employment of certain foreign nationals in the state and to prohibit the employment of non-EEA nationals without an employment permit issued by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are also required to have employment permits to take up employment in Ireland. However in the case of Bulgarians and Romanians this restriction only applies for their first continuous 12 months of employment in the state. Working without a valid employment permit, or employing someone without a valid employment permit, is a criminal offence under the Employment Permits Acts. NERA inspectors carry out checks to ensure compliance with the Employment Permits Acts as part of their workplace inspections. These can be either in the form of a standard NERA inspection (i.e. by appointment and include all employment legislation) or night inspections (specifically focusing on the Protection of Young Persons and Employment Permits Acts).

The following persons can legally work in Ireland:

  • EEA nationals (with the exception of persons from Romania and Bulgaria);
  • Swiss nationals;
  • Romanian and Bulgarian nationals who have been resident and employed in the state as the holder of an employment permit for an uninterrupted period of 12 months or longer or who are the spouse/dependant of a Romanian or Bulgarian worker that has completed 12 months compliant employment in the labour market;
  • persons granted refugee status;
  • persons granted temporary leave to remain on humanitarian grounds;
  • persons with specific immigration permission permitting them to work;
  • persons with working visa/work authorisation;
  • civil partners or dependents of an Irish or EEA national (except Bulgarian and Romanian nationals) with permission to remain;
  • persons granted leave to remain as a parent of an Irish citizen.

At the end of 2011 NERA had 102 staff by comparison with 108 in 2010 and 119 in 2009. Included in this total are 62 labour inspectors and 27 information officers. NERA has continued to reduce the cost of the provision of its services over the past number of years. In 2011, NERA’s running cost was €6.6 million, a reduction of €300,000 from the 2010 cost of €6.9 million. NERA’s budget was €7.9 million in 2009 and €9.6 million in 2008. NERA staff are employees of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and all finances are administered through the department’s budget and form part of its accounts.

Actors involved

NERA labour inspectors. Joint inspections have also been carried out as part of wider investigations involving the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection and An Garda Síochána (police). NERA is empowered under legislation to exchange information with the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners. This enables a more comprehensive government approach to employers and employees who may be at risk of being non-compliant and facilitates the operation of joint investigations by the three parties, or a combination of the parties, where breaches of law are suspected. NERA inspectors may also be accompanied by Gardaí (police) during inspections and NERA works closely with Gardaí in particular on matters relating to employment permits.

Outcome of evaluations: lessons and conclusions

See impact indicators below.

Impact indicators

An analysis of compliance with the Employment Permits Acts in relation to inspections carried out during the sample period between 1 October 2011 and 15 November 2011 produced the following information.

Employers inspected

  • Total employers inspected: 441;
  • Total employers in breach of Employment Permit Acts: 88 (20%).

Profile of persons employed in breach of Employment Permits Acts

  • Romanians detected working without permit: 77 (36%).
  • Bulgarians detected working without permit: 8 (4%).
  • Asylum seekers detected working illegally: 19 (9%).
  • Students stamp 2 working in excess of permitted hours: 31 (15%).
  • Other migrants working without permit: 77 (36%).
  • Total illegal workers detected: 212 (100%)..

It should be noted, NERA emphasises, that the period examined included a large number of night inspections, where the nature of businesses open (predominately in the services sector) would naturally have a higher proportion of migrant workers. Therefore it would be unreliable to draw overarching conclusions regarding the level of compliance with the Employment Permit Acts based on this limited sample, which should be regarded as illustrative rather than definitive. In 2012, NERA says it will be able to provide whole year statistics which will provide a comprehensive picture of the overall compliance situation with regard to Employment Permits legislation.


This is a nationwide measure, but NERA is selective in terms of the sectors that it targets (especially given resource constraints). There may be elements that could be transferred to other Member States.


National Employment Rights Authority (NERA): or


Indecon International Economic Consultants (2002), ‘Review of active labour market programmes’.

National Employment Rights Authority (2012), ‘NERA review of 2011’.

Revenue Commissioners (2012), Annual report 2011.

Tony Dobbins, Bangor University


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