A four-month investigation by BIRN and Noteworthy, into the working conditions of the migrant workers that big Irish producers depend on at a harvest time, won the Investigative Writing Award at the first-ever Irish Food Writing Award.
The winners were announced during the event in Dublin on November 10. The founder of the Irish Food Writing Awards, journalist Suzanne Campbell said the organisers had been overwhelmed with entries: over 200 were submitted for 16 categories, from throughout Ireland.
“It has been a tough 18 months for the food sector and for journalists, so this is a lovely way to acknowledge the hard work of writers and food media,” Campbell said at the ceremony.
In a series of articles published last December, BIRN and Noteworthy spoke to a number of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe and labour rights experts who were concerned that not enough is being done to address the long working hours and low pay for those working in the industry.
Workers, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, recalled the hardships they were going through, such as overcrowded cabins provided for them to take breaks in and long working days lasting up to 14 hours.
The investigation also revealed:
- Concerns about labour practices in the mushroom industry in the border area, according to findings shared with BIRN and Noteworthy by a two-year cross-border project, members of which spoke to BIRN and Noteworthy about their findings.
- A 2018 survey by Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, and released to BIRN and Noteworthy through a Freedom of Information, FOI, request indicates the horticulture industry has difficulty retaining staff due in part to low wages, poor working conditions, lack of suitable accommodation and poor recruitment skills.
- An analysis of Workplace Relations Commission data released through an FOI request shows that it uncovered almost 185,000 euros in unpaid wages since 2017, affecting over 3,300 employees in the soft fruit and mushroom sectors.