The Workplace Relations Commission’s inspection regime for the country’s fishing vessels has been described as “ineffective” after it emerged that it has only recovered just over €6,000 in owed wages.
Minister of state for business, Heather Humphreys, who has responsibility for the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which inspects vessels, said that it has 10 WRC inspectors with the relevant safety and survival training to carry out fishing inspections and investigations.
She said 181 fishing vessels come under the scope of the new atypical worker permission scheme for non-EU workers of which 174 are currently active or operational.
“To date, 165 of these vessels have been inspected by the WRC,” she said.
“In total, some 240 inspections of these vessels were undertaken by the WRC in the period July 2016 to December 31, 2017. 202 contraventions were detected by WRC inspectors to the end of 2017.”
Those contraventions included 71 failures to keep employment records; 29 cases where the non-EU fisherman did not have permission to work; 25 where the vessels were found to have failed to issue payslips; 13 where the vessel failed to comply with the terms of the atypical scheme; six failures to pay correct rates.
Ms Humphreys said 112 contravention notices have been issued to date by the WRC with one case going as far as prosecution and initiated in four others.
“Current investigations by the WRC have been completed in respect of 95 of the 181 vessels,” said Ms Humphreys.
“Five of those cases involved unpaid wages amounting to almost €6,300. The majority of the unpaid wages related to failure to pay the national minimum wage rates and/or public holiday entitlements.”
Ms Humphreys, in answer to a series of parliamentary questions from People Before Profit TD Mick Barry, also said HSA inspectors had carried out 73 inspections of vessels on health and safety grounds leading to seven improvement notices being served and 40 reports of inspection issued for more minor health and safety breaches.
Ken Fleming of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) who has been inspecting vessels in Irish ports for the last 13 years questioned how the WRC could properly probe the 71 vessels where no employment records were found as these are essential to the rest of the inspection.
He also questioned how a cohort of 10 inspectors had still not managed to inspect all the vessels in the space of almost 18 months.
“The €6,300 recovered is a very small amount and implies the manner in which the WRC applies its inspections is ineffective because there are fishermen out there owed thousands of euro,” said Mr Fleming.
“Those cases are being processed by the ITF through the WRC and we have referred a number of cases to gardaí over trafficking and forced labour concerns.”
Mr Fleming also said the number of permits issued has halved in 2017 compared to 2016.
“Maybe the industry realises that there is no real enforcement from the various government departments — and therefore no consequences. My question is who are now working on theses boats,” he said.
“Boats employers that had convinced the Government to grant a permit scheme because no Irish workers were available. It’s far from a mystery what is really going on.”
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