Fishermen take PRSI case to the High Court


A test case to decide whether 6,000 Irish fishermen are employees or independent contractors for the purposes of the Pay Related Social Insurance scheme (PRSI) opened at the High Court yesterday. The Co Cork owners of two trawlers, Mr Francis Griffin of Ardmanagh, Schull, and Mr William Deasy of Pier Road, Union Hall, have brought proceedings against the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs. Both claim the Department decided that fishermen working on their trawlers were insurable within the terms of PRSI Class A.

Mr Paul Sreenan SC, for the two, said the issue was whether or not fishermen working on board the two trawlers were employed under a contract of service or a contract for service - whether they were employees or independent contractors. This would decide the relevant class of PRSI applicable. While the applicants were trawler owners, the issue related to the fishermen who worked on the boats. If the fishermen were employees, the boat owners would have a liability for PRSI.

The traditional arrangement with fishing vessels was that, after expenses and depending on the number of the crew, the net value of the catch was divided into shares. Half of these would go to "the boat" and the other half would be divided among the crew. The share to "the boat" would be given to the owner for the use of his boat for repairs and perhaps to repay a loan.

The evidence would be that "share" fishermen were treated by the revenue authorities as self-employed for tax purposes.

The hearing continues today.