As of May 16, all non-EU fishermen seeking to work in the industry here had to have “atypical worker permission” and be given proper contracts of employment and be paid statutory minimum wages as employees of the boat owner.
The International Transport Workers Federation has visited a number of ports in recent days and spoken to boat owners and fishermen to assess their compliance with the new regulations. It has gathered documentation which highlights the level to which boat owners are dodging their requirements under the regulations.
In one port, of the seven vessels in dock, five had non-EU crews with no permits. One had two permits and the skipper of the other gave a guarantee that three permits were available for his crew.
In a letter sent to the Workplace Relations Commission, Port State Control and the Garda National Immigration Bureau, ITF inspector Ken Fleming said his organisation had found “a mindset from those we encountered of non-compliance”.
“We discovered that paperwork is being made available to the Marine Survey Office that shows rest hours within acceptable levels, while at the same time paperwork is being shown to the Workplace Relations Commission that shows acceptable levels of work done.
“But when you compare both sets of papers the numbers do not add up to 168 hours per week. This is a serious development and needs to be tackled.” He said the ITF had also found that vessels registered in the North were being used in the waters here to undermine the scheme.
“It is our view that if this is not stopped many more UK vessels will appear,” he said.
Mr Fleming also raised concerns about vessels under 15 metres long which have non-EU workers onboard, but which are not coming under the new regulations.
“We have turned our backs on workers serving on the small vessels. Surely this must be corrected,” he said.
Mr Fleming said another “stark reality” is that boat owners believe all hours worked above the basic do not have to be.
“It was stated to us by many owners that this money can be held back from the seafarer and paid at a later date,” he said. “Some suggested that it would be paid at the end of contract if the fisher behaved. One said he would use the cash to pay for the fisher’s ticket home.” Mr Fleming said some boat owners doing their best to comply with the scheme are quite bitter at the fact that others are bragging about noncompliance.
“What is needed is a strong zero-tolerance approach from the state agencies. “What is clear and accepted is that the WRC has been active, but only on an educational basis to the industry. However, we are 5 months in now, and the take up of permits is simply unacceptable. The education phase must come to an end now and enforcement must take priority.”