Significant rise of human trafficking into labour market, warn experts

Migrant fishermen, domestic and care workers in Ireland at risk of exploitation, says report

The “modern-day slavery” of human trafficking is rapidly spreading into the labour market, with migrants in the Irish fishing industry still at risk of exploitation, European experts have warned.

While sex trafficking remains the main form of trafficking across the continent, European countries have noted a significant increase in the level of labour exploitation, according to the annual report from the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (Greta).

The group is calling for the implementation of stronger legislation across the EU to protect the rights of victims of labour trafficking combined with an improvement in labour laws. It warns that at present, prosecutions and convictions of perpetrators are very rare.

Migrant workers are particularly at risk of exploitation as are people from Roma communities and children living on the streets

The Greta report, which is chaired by Irish law professor Siobhán Mullally, singles out the United Kingdom, Belgium, Portugal, Serbia and Georgia as countries where labour trafficking has emerged as the main form of trafficking.


It adds that despite Ireland’s introduction of the Atypical Working Scheme (AWS) in 2016 to protect crew members on Irish fishing boats, a review of the scheme is needed to ensure it contains “sufficient safeguards against trafficking and exploitation of fishermen”.


The AWS permit scheme guarantees a contract and payment of minimum wage, along with additional insurance and repatriation costs. However, concerns have been raised that the application for permits should not be tied to employers and that crew should be able to apply independently.

Researchers found most victims of trafficking for labour exploitation in Europe are men who primarily work in agriculture, construction, hospitality, manufacturing, fisheries and cleaning services. However, women and children are also affected with women more likely to work in "more isolated settings" such as domestic or care work. Victims can also be subjected to a combination of labour and sexual exploitation, sometimes through forced or sham marriages.

As victims often depend on their traffickers for work or housing, some may be reluctant to speak out

Migrant workers are particularly at risk of exploitation as are people from Roma communities and children living on the streets. Victims are trafficked both internationally across borders and within their countries of origin or residence, while social media and online sites are often used for recruitment.

‘Growing problem’

The report writes that home care is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Ireland, with a high number of migrants working in these jobs, but warns of a lack of regulation of the sector and poor working conditions and raises concerns around the quality of care provided. The recruitment of au pairs into "substandard domestic work jobs" is also described as a "growing problem".

The report cites the case of three Filipina domestic workers who were awarded €80,000 each by the Employment Appeals Tribunal for an unfair dismissal claim they brought against the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Ireland and his wife, noting that people trafficked for labour exploitation in Ireland can seek legal redress and compensation.

At risk

As victims often depend on their traffickers for work or housing, some may be reluctant to speak out, while migrant workers may face deportation if they speak to the authorities. A lack of legislation and labour inspections of domestic and care work leaves victims in these sectors particularly at risk, adds Greta.

“Our monitoring shows that more and more people are being trafficked to work in awful conditions in Europe, both within and across national borders,” said Ms Mullally. “States across Europe need to work closely together with NGOs, trade unions and the private sector to help end this heinous exploitation and abuse.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast