Group alleging ‘slavery’ in fishing industry denied injunctions

International Transport Workers Federation claims permit scheme leads to exploitation

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has failed to get injunctions against the State over a work permit scheme which it alleges allows migrant fishermen to be exploited and trafficked.

Mr Justice Tony O’Connor said he accepted the ITF may be trying to prevent one of “the world’s worst human rights abuses”, namely human trafficking of migrant workers.

He said the evidence presented “an awful picture of human misery caused by many Irish employers which reminds one of work camps in eras of evil in previous countries”.

However, the court could not ignore a “stark warning” from responsible officers of State bodies about the adverse impact of any injunctions on those non-EEA workers who can benefit from protections under the scheme, he said.


He did not accept evidence on behalf of the ITF that the scheme could be amended in order to accommodate those workers who benefit from it. The ITF had not, at this stage, established a strong case of probability that the mischief it is concerned about will arise from the scheme.

The federation had sought, pending its full case due to be heard next year, orders restraining the Minister for Justice granting or reviewing any further permissions under the Atypical Working Scheme for non-EEA crew in the Irish fishing fleet. Those permits are conditional on an employee remaining in the employment of a particular employer or vessel.


In its action against the Minister and State, the ITF claims migrant fisherman working on Irish registered trawlers were exploited, underpaid, racially abused, worked to exhaustion and in some cases assaulted to a degree that their working conditions are akin to “modern slavery”.

The scheme was introduced by the Government in 2016 after claims of exploitation of workers within the Irish fishing industry were exposed in a British newspaper report.

The ITF claims the scheme does not protect workers from exploitation and human trafficking and that there are over a dozen cases of potential human trafficking arising from the scheme which are the subject of criminal investigations.

The State opposed the application for injunctions and denies the ITF’s claims in relation to the scheme. It argued the injunctions sought could put non-EEA fishermen at greater risk and danger of exploitation because inspectors would have no power to enforce employment rights.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission was involved in the case as an ‘Amicus Curiae’, assistant to the court on legal issues, because the case raises “important human rights issues”.

The case will be mentioned before the court again in February.