The Irish deputy prime minister has met with Facebook content moderators, who have outlined serious concerns about their working conditions.
Moderators have been pushing for months to be given the same right to work from home as other Facebook employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are also concerns over the level of mental health supports available to workers, who are frequently exposed to distressing content.
Met with internet content moderators today. They do really important work to protect all of us. Will be following up on some of issues they mentioned
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) January 29, 2021
They are employed through Covalen, an outsourcing firm with a major Facebook moderation contract in Ireland.
Leo Varadkar met with two moderators, Ibrahim Halawa and Paria Moshfeghi, in Dublin on Friday.
The PA News Agency understands that Mr Varadkar will write to Facebook next week to highlight the concerns raised.
Mr Halawa said he and Ms Moshfeghi were “risking our jobs” by speaking out about their concerns.
The main fear among employees is that they are forced to attend the office, where there has been positive cases of Covid-19, and return to vulnerable family members.
Mr Halawa said: “I had complained to the company and I have told them that my mom is a recovering cancer patient, and there’s only me and my sister, taking shifts on her care.
“It’s unfair that I would have to come during these difficult times and move around the building and whatnot, then come back home.
“The response that was given really annoyed me. It was ‘try to stay away from them’. Well, how am I meant to stay away from my loved ones?
“It is not fair to work in a place in this modern time in Ireland and be in such fear to speak up just for simple improvements” he said.
“A lot of employees are really worried about their safety, about their mental health and it’s not fair.”
Ms Moshfeghi said: “I found it scary to speak up because Covalen and Facebook try to intimidate us.
“Really, it is my safety concern around Covid that led me to speak to Mr Varadkar today.
“Today I said that Mr Varadkar must use his power to make our employer protect us from Covid, in the same way Facebook staff are protected.”
Following the meeting, Mr Varadkar tweeted: “Met with internet content moderators today. They do really important work to protect all of us. Will be following up on some of issues they mentioned.”
Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law, a solicitors’ firm representing the moderators, said they had written numerous letters to both Facebook and Covalen in the lead-up to Friday’s meeting.
He said: “Facebook, to no surprise, denied responsibility for the moderators as employees. Covalen, the employer, didn’t respond at all.
“Unfortunately, what we see is clearly a policy of hear no evil, see no evil, and certainly speak no evil.
“This shows a lack of respect for their own workers. Content moderators can today take great comfort from the Tanaiste’s statement and the fact that we stood up and asserted these people’s rights to talk about conditions, about safety about dignity, and about pay.
“Like any other playground playground bully, they went away. Today is the beginning of the end of the fear of these workers to speak out today.”
The moderators have been working with Foxglove Legal, a team of lawyers, technology experts, and communications specialists seeking rights for tech workers.
Co-founder Cori Crider said: “Content moderators are a workforce of thousands all over the world and there are over 1,000 content moderators in Ireland.
“Facebook as a platform simply couldn’t exist without this workforce and they’re not directly employed by Facebook, but often outsourced, underpaid and made to sign very restrictive non-disclosure agreements.
“They can’t tell their families that they moderate content on Facebook, they’re subject to hours of toxic material without proper or meaningful mental health support.”
The PA News Agency has contacted Facebook for comment.