Migrant fishermen to receive enhanced job protection

Deal comes after mediation between Government and transport union over ‘slavery’ claims

Under the deal, non-EEA fishers working on Irish vessels are to receive a contract of employment in their native language and will have the right to switch working to a different ship without facing the threat of deportation.  File image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

Under the deal, non-EEA fishers working on Irish vessels are to receive a contract of employment in their native language and will have the right to switch working to a different ship without facing the threat of deportation. File image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

 

Migrants working on Irish fishing boats are to be given enhanced protections to ensure their employment rights are respected and to protect them from trafficking and slavery as part of a settlement announced on Tuesday.

Non-EEA fishers working on Irish vessels are to receive a contract of employment in their native language and will have the right to switch working to a different ship without facing the threat of deportation following mediation between the Government and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) around their employment scheme.

The scheme was introduced by the Government in 2016 after claims of exploitation and alleged trafficking of workers from Asia and Africa for cheap labour were exposed in a Guardian newspaper investigation.

The report found undocumented Ghanaian, Filipino, Egyptian and Indian fishermen were being brought into the Republic via Britain. The then-minister for agriculture, food and the marine Simon Coveney set up on interdepartmental task force to examine the treatment of migrant fishers following the report.

The Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that a settlement had been reached and signed by a number of Government departments and the ITF as part of mediation talks around the scheme. The agreement comes after proceedings were taken by the ITF against the Government over the work permit scheme which it said was allowing fishermen to be exploited and was akin to “modern slavery”. The court heard that non-EEA fishermen worked on average 116 hours per week but paid an average of €2.83 per hour. The High Court has now struck out the case.

Under the agreed deal, fishers will no longer be tied to one employer and will be able to seek work on other vessels without losing their right to work while boat owners will no longer be able to deduct the cost of a permit (€1,000) from the worker’s wages. All permit documents will have to be supplied to the worker in English and their own language with clear information on entitlements to pay, working-hours and rest periods and boat owners must provide documentation on rest hours and payslips, as part of the scheme.

The Government has also committed to ratify the EU Directive 2017-159 by November 15th which regulates the maximum number of hours, minimum hours of rest and manning requirements aboard commercial fishing vessels. An oversight committee, chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, is set to meet on a two monthly basis for the first six months starting in May to ensure the scheme is working.

The ITF coordinator for Britain and Ireland Ken Fleming welcomed the agreement but said he doubted whether the fishing industry was capable of moving away from the “the scandals” around its treatment of migrant workers. He described the extended involvement of the Workplace Relations Committee to inspect issues previously overseen by the Maritime Survey Office as a “major improvement” for the scheme.