A migrant fisherman working on a prawn boat off the Dublin coast has told the Workplace Relations Commission that he and two colleagues worked up to 17 hours a day at sea and are owed €140,000 in unpaid wages.
The fisherman produced a photograph of what he said was a blank time sheet that his employer told him to sign. A solicitor for the employer said that the photographed form in fact suggested that there was no fishing during the period in question.
The three fishermen worked aboard the Skerries-based trawler Nausicaa. They claim the statutory working time records for the trawler are not accurate and that they are collectively owed about €140,000.
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 the vessel’s owner, Richard Brannigan. Mr Brannigan denies any breaches of employment law and maintains all three of the men were properly paid.
Giving evidence to a hearing at Lansdowne House, Dublin 4, on Thursday, Mr Elagamy said he had worked as a share fisherman for Mr Brannigan from 2014 to 2016 when he was placed on a contract in line with the government’s work permit scheme for undocumented crew in the sector.
His trade union representative, Michael O’Brien of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, asked the witness whether he was given a monthly form with his hours of work and rest periods in line with the requirements of the scheme.
“I get a form empty and I sign with nothing filled in it,” replied Mr Elagamy, adding in response to further questioning that he “didn’t see any recorded hours on the sheet”.
He confirmed he had photographed such a form, which was included in the complainant submissions.
Mr Elagamy said that when the Nausicaa was on the fishing ground the crew would work up to 20 hours a day, performing four shots of the net and working to grade and clean the catch for some three hours after bringing it aboard.
Mr O’Brien put it to him that Mr Brannigan maintained that there were days when the boat was at sea and he was not at work. “No, the boat cannot work without us,” replied Mr Elagamy.
Mr O’Brien asked his client about two dates in May and August 2021 when the employer’s records indicated he had not been at work when he said the Nausicaa had been at sea.
Mr Elgamy said he had been at work on both dates and added: “How could I be on the boat and not working?”
Processing the catch
He said that in addition to hauling the nets and processing the catch, he also had to do his share of watch-keeping and steering the vessel — a duty which he said could last an hour or up to three or four hours. While at sea, he said, he got just seven hours’ sleep in the space of a week.
Mr Elagamy was cross-examined by Ruairí Ó Cathán of Conway Solicitors, for the respondent, who put it to him that his trade union had supplied a photograph it argued was a blank form.
“You provided this, which isn’t particularly clear. I can’t make out the date. I can’t make out the comments on the right-hand side of [the] sheet,” he said.
“I do know that looks very like ‘NF’ and ‘NF’ means ‘no fishing’ and on that basis if there is no fishing there’s going to be no hours filled out, so that’s why that appears to be blank,” he said.
He produced what he said was a “clear copy” of an example of the form in respect of an NF period.
Mr O’Brien objected to the production of the time sheets at this stage, arguing that his side did not have possession of the material the employer was seeking to introduce. The adjudicating officer agreed, with “great reluctance”, to adjourn the hearing to allow the complainants time to review the time sheets.