From Portugal – Atlanco (ARG)

From Portugal to Portadown

An Insight Investigation


The shocking treatment of migrant workers in Northern Ireland is the focus of a major Insight investigation this Thursday.  A story of how Northern Ireland’s latest import could soon become its new underclass.


Using the very latest secret camera technology, and with the assistance of one Portuguese worker who felt compelled to highlight the plight of his fellow countrymen, Insight goes undercover to reveal a hidden world of disgruntled workers living in shoddy conditions.


A world where complaints over pay are commonplace; where workers live in fear of being dismissed and thrown onto the street; and where agency supervisors rule through misinformation and fear.


There are an estimated 2,000 Portuguese in the Province at present, mostly working in food processing industries where labour shortages have forced employers to look abroad.


The workers are found in towns where the industries are based such as Portadown, Ballymena and Carrickfergus. In Dungannon, a town with 10,000 inhabitants, almost one tenth of the population is now thought to be Portuguese.


They are brought into Northern Ireland by recruitment agencies promising high wages, free travel and accommodation.  However, the reality often falls far short of the promise and workers feel duped as they only sign their employment contracts once they land in Northern Ireland.  Any change of mind at this stage would leave them having to repay their airfare from Portugal, with no job and no home.


Despite their European Union status which should afford them the same rights as anyone born here, many of these workers are treated anything but equally.  They are paid considerably less than Northern Irish workers doing the same job, and in some cases their pay rates may be below the legal minimum.


Mario, 31, from north of Lisbon in Portugal, wore a secret camera on behalf of Insight for a week.  Based in Portadown, he worked for Atlanco – the Dublin-based agency at the forefront of this human traffic – and was hired out as a cleaner to chicken processors Moy Park, Atlanco’s number one client in Northern Ireland.


He explained why he took part:


It was the wish of getting the people to know what is happening with the Portuguese community. It is important because it includes a lot of people from my country”


The programme follows Mario as he discusses concerns over pay with other workers, their fears about approaching a trade union to discuss matters, and the Atlanco supervisors’ remarkable attempts to prevent Mario joining the union, or encouraging others to seek help.


Alongside the footage gathered by Mario, Insight also mounted a “sting” operation on the recruitment agency Atlanco.  Posing as industrial cleaners needing labour, the programme makers arranged meetings with the agency to discuss the possibility of a million-pound contract.


The nature of the contract, which will be revealed in the programme, was highly dangerous for the workers concerned and it was explained to Atlanco that no other recruitment agencies were prepared to even consider it.  But with a premium price on offer, Atlanco was willing and able.



For further information, contact Orla McKibbin, UTV Press Office on

028 90 262188


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