A group of staff members at the New York Irish Consulate are seeking to negotiate with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the lack of US Social Security payments made by the Irish government on their behalf.
The six women in question worked at the Consulate on Park Avenue for between eight and 35 years and have amassed over 100 years of service at the Irish government’s New-York base. Yet, no Social Security payments have been made by their employer on their behalf and they have been excluded from the US tax system.
The consulate's employees were told that, although they are recognized as employees of the Irish government, they would be treated as independent contractors and were advised to file their tax returns with the IRS as such. Despite this, however, the group alleges that they were never issued with the form 1099s that all independent contractors should receive from their employers, allowing them to declare their earnings with the IRS, and were never in receipt of payslips, which they are legally entitled to receive under New York state law.
The staff in question are also local and not diplomatic staff, meaning they work with the Irish Consulate in New York permanently and are not appointed to the office on a contractual or short-term basis.
The six employees are now collectively seeking to bargain with the Dept. of Foreign Affairs under US industrial-relations law and negotiate social security payments and compensation for the alleged missed payments.
“Potentially, the Irish government is treating them the same way an abusive employer treats illegal aliens,” claims the group’s legal advisor, New-York attorney-at-law Shane Humphries.
“Staff are looking to take this case because for many years – some of the women have been working there for over 20 years – the Irish government has failed to give them the option to pay into social security.”
The alleged failure by the Irish government to make social security payments for these employees will result in a greatly reduced amount of funds available to them once they retire.
“They were told initially told that as they are Irish and working in the Irish consulate, they don't have to pay taxes,” Humphries told IrishCentral.
However, he believes that they are legally required to pay taxes and entitled to social security payments being paid by their employer.
“What happens is that some get grossed up salaries so then you can then pay taxes as independent contractor,” he explained, “but they’re not independent contractors, they’re employees, and they’re entitled to have social security payments deducted from their pay and their employers – the Irish government – to match it so they will have a livable pension.”
As it stands, upon retirement the employees will receive a €400 a week pension from the Irish government, the same figure as the Irish state pension, which will also be taxed, despite the fact that many of these employees may not retire back to Ireland.
The problem can also not be rectified by the Irish government simply beginning to pay social security payments on these employees' behalf in the future, continues Humphries, as the years of nonpayment mean they are already significantly behind, especially as some in the group are close to retirement age. He believes the onus falls on the government to compensate the six employees in New York for the lost payments during their time in the city’s consulate.
“They have neglected their employees and what the ladies want to do is exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act to bargain collectively with the Irish government,” said Humphries, “and the first step in that is for the Irish government to appoint a representative to undertake that negotiation. To this point the government has refused and tried to ignore their request.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs has declined to speak on the issue stating: "The department does not comment on the circumstances of individual employees.
"As is standard across the mission network, the department complies fully with local labor law requirements in the US."
Humphries first became involved as the group’s legal advisor last October when he wrote a letter to Brian Flynn at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Since then, former ambassador Oliver Grogan has been appointed to complete background fact-finding on the issue, a task Humphries believes is simply another stalling static on behalf of a department which, he alleges, already has the facts of the case.
Humphries told IrishCentral that since the issue was first brought to light by the Sunday Independent last weekend he has been contacted by two former employees of the Dept. of Foreign Affairs who claim they quit their positions due to their treatment as Irish government employees in the US.
Humphries also says that, although the practice may not be widespread in Irish consulates in America, it has been brought to his attention that there may be employees in the San Francisco Consulate who are also working for the Irish government as independent contractors.
“At the moment, there are these six employees in New York and 100 years of combined service there. There may be another eight or ten around the country so in terms of the number of people it's not huge but to the ladies in question it is because their pension and their ability to live a half decent life on retirement is at risk.
“All they’re doing is asking the Irish government to do the right thing and appoint a negotiator on this side of the Atlantic.”
Humphries informed IrishCentral that the New York office of Hogan Lovells is acting as facilitators for the Irish government in the case but when he contacted them he was told that meetings with Oliver Grogan would have to be organized with the former Ambassador himself.
Hogan Lovells was contacted by IrishCentral but did not wish to comment.