State pays company at least €200 million. Workers demand share

Workers at a company that’s received a minimum of €200 million in state contracts over the last 12 years have brought a pay claim against the employer – accusing it of underpaying staff and unfair working conditions. 

Outsourcing company Abtran, founded in 1997 and later acquired by Morgan McKinley in late 2021 when its revenues had hit €300 million a year, has been paid at least €210,000,000 by the state since 2012. 

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy in 2016 questioned its receipt of an Irish Water contract “despite the very public failings” of its previous work with another state body. Murphy asked then tánaiste Joan Burton if she was “concerned about what appears to be the favouring of Abtran for government funds?"

Workers at the company are now demanding a “fair share of the profits that Abtran makes” – with their first ask for a pay raise to €15 an hour. 

‘I am getting paid minimum wage and commuting in at €200 a month’

Founded in 1998, Abtran was an early participant in the Department of Education’s Genesis Enterprise Programme. Soon after it “was given a serious boost in 2001/02 when it landed the contract to keep the nation informed about the impending switch to the euro,” according to the Irish Independent

Founder Michael Fitzgerald in 2007 said the company manages “contact centres on behalf of large companies and government organisations”. 

Since 2012 alone it's received at least €210,600,000 in state contracts, according to documents released under freedom of information, answers to parliamentary questions and media reports. 

Last month unionised workers at the company launched a pay claim against Abtran, saying they “deserve pay and conditions that give us the fair share of the profits that Abtran makes from its many contracts around the country”. 

Among these state contracts since 2012 is a controversial €50 million deal for Irish Water’s call centres, awarded after Abtran “directly lobbied” then environment minister Phil Hogan. 

State comptroller and auditor general Seamus McCarthy in 2015 spoke to the public accounts committee about Abtran’s contract with SUSI. 

This deal ran over budget. 

“From commencement of SUSI up to March 2013, these totalled €5.9 million compared with a budgeted amount of €1.8 million,” said McCarthy. 

Another of Abtran’s state contracts is a €90 million deal with the RSA for work on the national driver licence service, which was first awarded in 2012 and has since been the subject of renewals. 

Sinn Féin TD Mairéad Farrell in 2021 asked health minister Stephen Donnelly about the value of Covid-19 and consultancy contracts awarded Abtran. The HSE in response said the estimated total was €4,140,500. 

Meanwhile Electric Ireland in 2019 announced a three-year €30 million customer service deal with Abtran, a partnership then foreign affairs minister Simon Coveny was “delighted to welcome”. 

Another major state deal is with Revenue, which has paid Abtran €19.7 million from 2013 to 2021, along with further deals for 1,4 - 2 million thereafter. 

Separate deals with the HSE, Pobal and the Teaching Council make up the rest of €210 million. 

Last month unionised workers at Abtran began a pay claim, demanding “an immediate company-wide pay increase to €15 per hour for all staff”. The workers are also calling for the reintroduction of 15-minute breaks and a “ fair pay scale that rewards workers for their service”. 

Before beginning the pay claim one worker said, “I am getting paid minimum wage and commuting in at €200 a month only to be told I missed out on the pay increase by a month.”

“The pay to work ratio is completely off; we are continuously told to do mandatory training that benefits us in no way; we get extra training to move up in the company and take on more tasks while the money remains the same,” said another. 

There is no suggestion that Abtran pays its staff less than the national minimum wage.

Abtran declined to comment.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors