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Committee Report Calls for New Measures to Halt Exploitation of Migrant Fishermen on Irish Trawlers

The Oireachtas Business, Enterprise & Innovation Committee published its ‘Report on the situation of non-EEA crew in the Irish Fishing Fleet under the Atypical Worker Permission Scheme.’ It called for “new measures to halt exploitation of migrant fishermen on Irish trawlers” and recommended that a single Minister / government department should be given overall responsibility for coordinating the oversight of the fishing industry, according to a new report by the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

The Committee outlined its key recommendations in a statement on the official Oireachtas website:
1. The Committee recommends that the atypical scheme be amended to be linked to the worker only, and not specific to a vessel or owner. 1a) Meanwhile, there should be a moratorium on the issuing of permits to ‘out of country non-EEA nationals’. The position of all existing ‘in country non-EEA nationals’ should be regularised, within 6 months, before consideration is given to reopening the scheme. When the scheme reopens applications should only be granted from their country of origin. 1b) Where fishers are identified as having been trafficked, priority should be given by all relevant state agencies dealing with fishers to end such practices.
2. The Committee recommends that vessels under 15 metres be included in the atypical worker permission scheme.
3. The Committee recommends that there should be a simplification of the permit process so that applications can be made directly to a central registry that is open to public inspection and that a PPS number is attached to each permit.
4. The Committee recommends that a waterproof copy of the permit be carried at sea.
5. The Committee recommends that interpreters be readily available to the Workplace Relations Commission where the need arises.
6. The Committee recommends that extra funding be made available to the Workplace Relations Commission to allow it continue with a rigorous inspection regime of the relevant Irish fishing fleet, especially if the atypical worker permission scheme is extended to smaller vessels.
7. The Committee recommends that a single Minister/Government Department be given overall responsibility for the fishing industry. This would ensure direct ministerial responsibility for the coordination of Department and agency action in the industry. And this Department would ensure the enforcement of the state’s employment, revenue, health and safety laws by prosecuting non-compliant skippers and boat owners.
8. The Committee recommends that a reconstituted Task Force meet on a regular basis and would include the ITF as an equal partner so that its expertise and experience can be utilised to help make the scheme effective.
9. The Committee recommends that an information campaign targeted at the fishing industry be undertaken to increase the understanding of the functions of the different agencies.
10. The Committee recommends that a review of the Marine Survey Office be undertaken to ensure it has sufficient resources and legislative basis to fulfil its functions and allow it to cooperate fully with other State bodies. The Committee also recommends that the MSO be appointed as the lead statutory enforcement agency.
11. The Committee recommends that official statistics regarding the number of permits issued under the scheme be published on a regular basis.
12. The Committee recommends the ratification and enforcement by the Irish State of ILO convention 188 concerning work in the fishing sector.

Committee Chair, Mary Butler TD, said, “The Committee had concerns for some time about the situation of crew members from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) working in Irish fishing fleets under the Atypical Worker Permission Scheme. As such, we decided to conduct a series of hearings in order to discuss the matter due to the fact that there have been concerns that the permit scheme is being flouted by some trawler owners.

“The Committee is recommending that vessels under 15 metres be included in the scheme in order to ensure that illegal migrants are not being transferred to smaller vessels. Crucially, we are calling for a single Minister / department to oversee the fishing industry as it is clear that the current situation where responsibility for the sector is spread over a number of departments and agencies is not satisfactory.

“During the course of our hearings, the Committee heard harrowing stories about the conditions in which some migrant fishermen work. We cannot allow exploitation of workers in any industry and undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable. The Irish fishing industry is a proud one, respected internationally, and has many good and fair employers. The actions of some unscrupulous employers cannot be allowed to damage this vital industry and to flout safety, employment and immigration regulations. We are recommending that common-sense measures be put in place, such as interpreters and a simplification of the permit process. A review of the Marine Survey Office needs to be undertaken to ensure it has sufficient resources and legislative basis to fulfil its functions and allow it to cooperate fully with other State bodies.

“We accept 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 people try to protect profits by cutting labour costs.

“We will be sending this report to the Ministers with responsibility for various areas of policy in relation to this issue, asking them to consider its recommendations as a matter of urgency.”