Fishing bodies challenge claims of abuse of foreign crew members

‘Penny dropping’ on protection of employment rights, WRC head tells Dáil committee

Senator Paul Gavan said he was aware of two cases of alleged trafficking of fishing crew that had been referred to the Garda. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Senator Paul Gavan said he was aware of two cases of alleged trafficking of fishing crew that had been referred to the Garda. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

 

Fishing industry organisations have challenged several NGOs to provide evidence of alleged abuse of non-European crew on Irish fishing vessels.

Most fishing vessels run “like a family”, and no responsible skipper or master will put the wellbeing of their crew at risk, Irish South and West Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy told an Oireachtas committee hearing on Thursday.

However, the environment in which vessels work means that decisions are “occasionally made” that contradict work-time regulations – for the overall safety of vessels and crew, Mr Murphy said.

Mr Murphy and his counterpart from the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation Francis O’Donnell were appearing before the joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the issue of the State’s atypical work permit scheme for non-European Economic Area fishing crew.

Mr O’Donnell said that if there were “rogue operators”, they were in the minority, and his organisation did not support employment of undocumented crew.

Mr O’Donnell said that he found it “incredible” that “serious allegations of criminal activity” alluded to at a previous Oireachtas committee hearing on the issue on July 3rd last would be discussed, and that “those files have not been furnished to the relevant authorities if they exist”.

Mr O’Donnell said he was particularly concerned at a claim that the Garda was “tipping off” fishing vessel owners of inspections or raids. He could say “with confidence” that that had “never happened”.

Last July, the International Transport Workers Federation told the committee it had evidence of “widespread abuse”, while the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland also outlined details of a survey of non-Irish workers claiming mistreatment on fishing vessels.

Penny dropping

Workplace Relations Commission director-general Oonagh Buckley told the committee that “the penny was dropping” within the fishing industry on employment right protection for all crew.

She said that the WRC had inspected some 96 per cent of relevant vessels, and only a “very small number” had not engaged. Some 29 employment permit breaches were detected, and a substantial number of breaches related to paperwork.

She acknowledged that her 53 labour inspectors would not be able to continue inspections with such intensity into the future without more resources.

Under a memorandum of understanding, the WRC works with the Naval Service, Sea Fisheries Protection Agency and other agencies on inspections, which are always in port.

Alleged trafficking

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan said he was aware of two cases of alleged trafficking of fishing crew that had been referred to the Garda, and “17 in train”, and he would be “extremely concerned” that the WRC might have to “step back”.

Ms Buckley said her agency did not intend to “step back”, but would not be able to maintain intensity.

Responding to a question from People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith in relation to a discrepancy in figures issued by NGOs and fishing industry organisations on breaches, Ms Buckley said that there is no baseline survey of non European Economic Area crew on fishing vessels.

Labour Senator Ged Nash raised the issue of inter-agency co-operation and whether the Health and Safety Authority and Marine Survey Office had a working relationship in relation to safety at sea.

HSA chief executive Martin O’Halloran said his agency had not succeeded in cultivating a good relationship with the MSO and there were several “unreplied emails”.