By Peter McGregor
Aramark, a US multinational, has been awarded the contract to provide meals to centres for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. This comes after the company received a contract worth €7.5 million from the National Gallery of Ireland to run its cafe. Staff at the gallery have written an open letter to its management demanding that this be rescinded – trade unions representing these workers must back this principled stance.
The Government gave these contracts without going through any procurement process and will know of Aramark’s shoddy record providing food for asylum seekers in Direct Provision (DP) centres, which the government paid €5.2 million for in 2016. In one case a meal consisted of two bread rolls and a splash of what seemed to be pasta sauce. They were also forced to apologise after refusing to give a slice of bread to a sick child!
The treatment of asylum seekers in DP has been abysmal, with the average time in centres being 24 months, but in some cases people are there for up to 12 years. In 2020, a group of DP residents in the Skellig Star Hotel in Kerry were forced to go on hunger strike. This was due to many residents being moved from four centres in Dublin on a day’s notice, cramped rooms, no functioning boiler, insufficient water levels and a case of Covid-19, which led to an outbreak, being known but hidden by the HSE.
Despite knowing and seeing the horrific treatment of asylum seekers in DP centres, Aramark is still happy to profit from the system, whilst also contributing to the poor conditions.
Profiteering off human misery
A look into Aramark’s history in the US shows it has a tarnished history there as well, with an investigation showing that “at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s cafeteria, Aramark had withheld back-pay and fringe wages, and had failed to pay some workers for lunch hours. As a result of the investigation, Aramark was forced to pay out over $100,000”. A worker was fired in Michigan for reporting rat droppings and mice in a freezer, and a prison, also in Michigan, cancelled its contract with Aramark due to food shortages and maggots in food among other issues.
Aramark epitomises capitalism today: poor on workers rights and conditions, a sub-par service, and profiteering from people’s suffering – all whilst recording revenues of $14 billion in 2018.
The fact that the government entered into a marriage of convenience with Aramark to provide meals to those fleeing war in Ukraine without any proper process shows the half-baked nature of the government’s response. It said it “had to move quickly”, but using Aramark’s services despite knowing its terrible record tells us a lot about this government and Minister Roderic O’Gorman’s response.
After the release of the White Paper on ending DP surely a bit more inflection on the failures of the system, one of which certainly being Aramark’s involvement, would’ve made O’Gorman think twice about giving it the contract.
What is needed is proper facilitation of those fleeing the war in Ukraine, not the risk of terrible meals, or ‘housing’ refugees in tents. The entire DP system must also be ended, with a strategy that goes well beyond the White Paper and ensures the humane treatment of asylum seekers. We need major investment in decent, public housing for all.
This can be achieved by working class people coming together, including those in DP and Ukrainian refugees, to wage a battle against private profiteers, the governments which facilitate them and the capitalist system which breeds them.