Trawler owner claims GDPR breach over workers’ claims

Vessel owner challenges Naval Service release of data in bid to stop migrant fishermen’s trade union using it as evidence in pay dispute

A trawler boss is trying to stop Naval Service data on his vessel’s movements being used as evidence in a pay claim by three migrant fishermen – claiming it was provided to their trade union in breach of the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The workers’ trade union representative says working-time records for the respondent’s trawler are not accurate – and says third-party tracking data recorded by the Naval Service and a commercial provider will back up his clients’ testimony in support of their pay claims.

Khaled Elagamy, Mohamed Shokr Ghonim and Salem Elfeky have all lodged complaints under the Payment of Wages Act and the National Minimum Wage Act against their former employer, Richard Brannigan, the owner of the fishing vessel Nausicaa.

A number of Organisation of Working Time Act complaints were withdrawn at the outset.

Mr Brannigan, who appeared at a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, denies any breaches and maintains all three men were properly paid.

An adjournment was sought by both sides in the case.

Michael O’Brien, organiser with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said the respondent had submitted the working-time records it would be relying upon only on the previous Friday, after the Workplace Relations Commission’s normal deadline for submissions, and that he had had time to carry out only a partial comparison with his data on vessel movements.

The union had compiled two sets of data, he told the WRC: one from commercially available data from the vessels’ automatic identification systems and the other from the Naval Service’s vessel-management system.

He sought an adjournment to complete his analysis and make a complete response to Mr Brannigan’s submissions.

Liam O’Brien, for Mr Brannigan, said it was his client’s position that the data recorded by the commercial AIS system was “not reliable” and that the Naval Service data had been “obtained by a breach of GDPR”.

The trade union representative said he had obtained such data from the Department of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act on eight other occasions and that it had come into play in two previous matters before the WRC.

“It’s not like a Dolly Parton nine-to-five situation,” Michael O’Brien submitted, arguing it was unfair to expect his clients to give evidence of variable working hours over the course of years. He said the data was “essential” to making his members’ cases.

“It’s our position that all wages were paid. The allegation that the average day was 17 hours is completely refuted and rejected,” said Liam O’Brien, who was instructed by Conway Solicitors.

The barrister for the respondent said it was his client’s position that the correct working hours were “all on the wage slips and the time sheets”, adding that these records were made contemporaneously.

Michael O’Brien said that in the time he had been afforded to examine the respondent’s submissions he had been able to identify “discrepancies” between what had been recorded in the database and the time sheets. These included instances where the men were apparently working on the vessel when the vessel was ashore and, conversely, days when the vessel was at sea and there was apparently “no work at all” done, the union representative said.

The full hearing of the men’s claims has been adjourned until further notice from the WRC adjudication service with a date not to be fixed earlier than September.