‘Kebabs’ jibe angers Turkish workers
‘Kebabs’ jibe angers Turkish workers

A government junior minister accused of making a racist comment has inflamed a protest by Turkish construction workers, who are now threatening to go on hunger strike over unpaid wages.

In the Dublin parliament last week, Fianna Fail minister Conor Lenihan was forced to apologise after he told telling Socialist TD Joe Higgins to “stick with the kebabs”.

The remark was aparently a reference to Higgins’s support of Turkish migrant workers embroiled in a row with construction company Gama.

Gama is accused of paying the workers a fraction of the minimum wage and making them work up to 80 hours a week. The workers have threatened to go on hunger strike for promised back-pay.

Mr Higgins responded to Lenihan’s apology by saying that he should resign his post if he meant the statement as a term of racial abuse.

Sinn Féin Spokesman on International Affairs, Aengus O Snodaigh, said: “Of course, racist jokes are not funny and racist comments are never acceptable on the part of public representatives. Yet this kind of behaviour continues - largely without sanction from party leadership.

“What we need is for all the political parties to educate their membership... about the obligations we are all under having signed up to the Anti-Racism Protocol for Political Parties and also to enforce the obligations through disciplinary procedure.”

Meanwhile, the Minister’s aunt Mary O’Rourke rejected Opposition demands for his resignation. Fianna Fail leader in the Seanad said her nephew “does not have a racist bone in his body”.

Independent TD Joe Higgins first brought the plight of the Gama workers to public attention in February.

Although money paid into a Dutch bank by Gama has been sent to the men’s accounts in Turkey following the scandal, this only accounts for around half of the pay they are due at union rates for the hours worked.

Enterprise Minister Micheal Martin appealed yesterday for the striking workers not to go through with a threatened hunger strike.

He urged both sides to attend talks at the Labour Relations Commission in a bid to resolve the pay dispute.

“I would appeal for anyone not to go on hunger strike,” Mr Martin said.

“I understand their position, I understand where they’re coming from, on Monday, my understanding is both sides are being called into the Labour Relations Commission.

“I would urge and I’m saying to both sides that I expect both of them to turn up on Monday.

“I expect Gama to turn up on Monday and I expect the workers to turn up on Monday.”

Joe Higgins claimed Gama was engaged in a “sinister game plan” to remove from Ireland the workers who had protested.

The aim was to ensure there were no workers left to give evidence of the “massive overtime” they were owed. He said some of the 200 who had gone home did so for family reasons, and others because of “harassment and intimidation” of their families in Turkey.

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