44% of Filipino and Egyptian crew in survey sustained injury

Government’s scheme has made conditions worse and boats unsafe, committee told

Some 33% of the 30 workers interviewed by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland had experienced ‘verbal and/or physical abuse’. File photograph: Chris Furlong/Getty Images

Some 33% of the 30 workers interviewed by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland had experienced ‘verbal and/or physical abuse’. File photograph: Chris Furlong/Getty Images

 

A survey of Filipino and Egyptian crew working on Irish fishing vessels found that just over 41 per cent had experienced discriminatory behaviour and 44 per cent had sustained injury, the joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has heard.

Some 33 per cent of the 30 workers interviewed by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) had also experienced “verbal and/or physical abuse”, the committee was told on Tuesday.

The personal injuries sustained ranged from serious cuts to crushed limbs, with reports of lack of sufficient medical attention, MRCI community worker Dearbhla Ryan told the committee.

The MRCI research, which is due to be published in the autumn, also found that some 48 per cent of those interviewed did not feel safe at work, due to lack of rest breaks and days off.

“Consequently, the exhaustion makes them prone to work accidents,”she said. “ Another hazard is the lack of safety equipment on board the boats.”

The MRCI and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) had been invited to present findings to the joint Oireachtas committee on the situation of non-EEA crew in the Irish fishing fleet under the “Atypical worker permission scheme”.

Sweeping changes

The scheme, which was introduced in Spring 2016 on the recommendation of a task force established by former marine minister Simon Coveney, has led to a deterioration in foreign crew conditions, the NGOs told the committee.

The ITWF called for sweeping changes to ensure Ireland is compliant with its own labour laws and meets its European and international obligations, and said it had evidence of “widespread abuse” of non-EEA crew.

ITWF co-ordinator Ken Fleming also criticised “repeated failures” by State agencies to enforce the permit scheme.

He said his organisation was now considering initiating legal proceedings against the Government, having “exhausted existing remedies” and “being confronted by an institutional mindset that is in denial” .

Mr Fleming said that the NGO was working on a memorandum of understanding with supermarkets selling Irish fish, and “if we are forced to pull the trigger . . . we will bring down the fishing industry”.

Mr Fleming claimed gardaí were confiscating passports and crew were “wandering around without documentation”.

MRCI director Edel McGinley pointed out that the Atypical work permit scheme imposed a “nine to five and 39 hour working week” on an industry that does not operate within this framework.

Troublemaker

She said no single State body was tasked with enforcing employment legislation, and workers’ lack of English, lack of knowledge about the rights, and fear of being branded a troublemaker prevented them from approaching the Workplace Relations Commission.

She read a statement from an unnamed crewman who had lost three fingers in a deck accident, and lost his job, and had been blamed by his former employer for the incident.

The MRCI has called for the permit scheme to be reviewed, while the ITWF is seeking a moratorium on permits for non-Irish crew, and removal of exemption from the permit scheme for vessels under 15 metres.

The ITWF recommends appointment of the Marine Survey Office as the lead statutory enforcement agency, and prosecutions for non-compliance, among a number of recommendations.

Former minister of state for business and employment Senator Ged Nash (Lab called for direct ministerial involvement at a high level to address the issue.

Chairwoman Mary Butler (FF) said that there was a united approach on the need to ask “stakeholders” to come before the committee.

“This isn’t the end of it,”she said.