Migrant fishermen: exploited and abused

Ignoring the ill-treatment of foreign workers will damage the reputation of the industry

The Irish fishing industry is respected internationally. Ignoring the exploitation of migrant workers will inflict reputational damage on the sector. Photograph: Niall Duffy

The Irish fishing industry is respected internationally. Ignoring the exploitation of migrant workers will inflict reputational damage on the sector. Photograph: Niall Duffy

 

It is far too easy to discriminate against undocumented workers. A particularly vulnerable group is migrant crew employed in the Irish fishing industry. Research carried out by the Migrant Rights Centre found that two thirds of migrant fishermen work more than 100 hours a week. Average pay is €2.82 an hour, and exploitation and verbal and physical abuse are common.

A report on the same theme by the Oireachtas Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation has shed further light on the situation. Committee chair Mary Butler TD noted that trawler owners are under substantial pressure due to overfishing and competition over quotas. More must be done to support Irish fishing, but we cannot allow a situation where some employers try to protect profits by cutting labour costs, she said.

The committee made a number of recommendations to address the problems it identified. Among these is a requirement that all undocumented non-European Economic Area nationals in the Irish fishing industry should have their status regularised within six months. It also recommended that a worker’s visa not be tied to one employer so that individual workers have the freedom to leave those who exploit them.

As well as recommending that a single Government department be given responsibility to oversee the fishing industry, the report suggests that vessels under 15 metres be brought into the regulatory environment in order to prevent undocumented fishermen being transferred to smaller vessels. Some non-legislative common-sense measures will also help: simplifying the permit process and ensuring the ready availability of interpreters are obvious examples.

The Irish fishing industry is respected internationally. Ignoring the exploitation of migrant workers will inflict reputational damage on the sector. But most of all we must not be party to inflicting unnecessary hardship on workers in an already challenging industry. Some of the experiences related to the joint committee were harrowing and must be stopped by the urgent implementation of the report’s recommendations.

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