----- The Voice of Ireland's Fishing Industry and Maritime Community - Published Monthly, Established 1989 -----

Fiction and Facts - It's Time the Fishing Industry Took A Stand

On the 4th of July this year the International Transport Federation and the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland made a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Jobs and Enterprise about the alleged widespread abuse of migrant workers within the Irish Fishing Industry. According to Francis O'Donnell, Chief Executive of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), the Fishing Industry was dragged through the gutter once again and all kinds of allegations were made under the protection of privilege against the Irish Fishing industry and various agencies such as the WRC and the Gardai. The latter two are charged with policing the permit system for migrant workers.

3rd August 2017

Most of that focus was on how they were turning a blind eye to the alleged abuses of migrant workers and in some cases warning fishing vessel owners of inspections in advance. Reference was also made to the fact that a complaint was lodged to GSOC by the industry after raids in Castletownbere and Howth last year by the Gardai. The IFPO was not named as the complainant but we were named as representing the industry.

In his regular monthly column and opinion piece in the August issue of the Marine Times Newspaper, Mr. O'Donnell states that the ITF in their presentation advised the Committee about a number of migrant workers, working in the Irish Fishing Industry, living somewhere in Ireland and having to urinate out a window as they had no toilet. "Ken Fleming of the ITF referred to having to take a migrant worker home for Christmas where he and the dog had Christmas dinner together. The ITF compared the atypical permit as being similar to a dog licence. To say a picture paints a thousand words is an understatement."

The Irish Fishing industry is working with a scheme that it was given by a Task Force and has pointed out on numerous occasions that the scheme needs to be changed.

Mr. O'Donnell states that; "In January of this year I wrote to then Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald asking for a meeting of stakeholders to resolve issues around the current permit scheme for atypical migrant workers. In particular I focused on the need to have a transferable permit to protect the rights of the worker and minimise the risk to them. At no time was this mentioned. I copied the Migrant Rights Centre for Ireland on this communication at the time.

On the 20th of July, the Workplace Relations Commission who are primarily charged with policing this scheme, published facts in relation to statistics with relation to the Irish fishing industry. They have undertaken 208 inspections of the whitefish fleet, involving 150 of the 176 whitefish vessels over 15 metres in length. They detected almost 200 contraventions, relating to 110 vessels, to the end of June, 2017, and initiated 5 prosecutions where compliance by other means was not secured.

The WRC intends to inspect the remaining 26 vessels by the end of Summer, 2017. The contraventions detected by the WRC to the end of June relate to failure to produce or to keep records (36%), leave, public holiday and Sunday entitlements (20%), working without permission (14%) and a failure to issue payslips (13%).

"This clearly shows that there are 'bedding-in' problems and that the WRC are actually doing their work and not turning a blind eye. They are doing quite the opposite, " commented Mr. O'Donnell.

"If the ITF and the Migrant Rights Centre for Ireland have anecdotal or real evidence of widespread abuse of migrant workers in the Fishing industry they have to furnish that information to the authorities - being the Gardai and the WRC. In their evidence the ITF advised of convening a meeting of Migrant workers in Dublin where many had no permits and were working on Irish Fishing vessels.

"It's incredible to state this and not hand over that information. Maybe they have done this but I have serious issues with this. Knowing a crime is being committed and not informing the authorities is, in my opinion, contributing to the problem, not solving it.

"The Irish Fishing industry may not be perfect; the atypical scheme is certainly far from the perfect scheme but it's all we have to work with right now. Vessels are being prosecuted by the WRC, which is now clear from their press release.

"We certainly have work to do and I have been outspoken about any mistreatment of migrant or EU workers in the Irish Fishing Industry. Dogs, and migrant workers having Christmas dinner together is emotive but distracting from the issues and the many brilliant vessel owners paying migrant workers properly and in some cases well above the agreed contract including bonuses.

"The 4th of July was the dragging of our industry through the gutter. I believe this was a co-ordinated and well-choreographed strategy. That is why I asked that the Industry be called in front of the same Committee in September to give our side of the story and to bring a bit of balance to the debate.

Mr. O'Donnell concludes stating that; "It may be time to call it a day on the atypical scheme as some are using it to build their own media profile and damage ours. Reviewing it may not be enough as some want to unionise migrant workers. I am starting to think it may be time to scrap the scheme as it is being used against us for various reasons, some of which are self-serving to say the least."

The recruitment of Irish fishermen to Irish vessels has been a difficult sell in the last number of years not helped by national media bias against the industry and scurrilous comments by politicians in the past stating that Irish fishermen were criminals.

IN an attempt to entice Irish men and women into the industry a new group has been set up, the National Fishermen's Development Group. A new group which has been set up in conjunction with BIM and representatives from all sectors of the fishing industry. The groups remit is to look at the issues which are currently affecting all the various sectors of the industry. Some of the main issues identified to date have been recruitment of crew into the industry and training.

The group are looking at a number of strategies on how to make our industry more attractive to new crew and how to improve the conditions for the current crew.

The group has also met with Michael Keating at the BIM offices to discuss and consult with them regarding BIM's their plans to set up national training plan to support recruitment into the industry. Michael outlined the BIM training framework and the need for it. He also outlined that an industry consultative committee will be needed to agree the detail and implementation of all training.

As part of this strategy it has also been identified that the industries public image needs much improvement, the group is currently working on press releases to highlight the positive aspects of the industry which you will see in mainstream media in the coming weeks and months.

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.... August 2017 Issue - Vol 30 No.03

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