The Workplace Relations Commission is to play an increased role in protecting migrant fishermen here from modern-day slavery.
The Government and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have agreed enhanced protections for the fishermen to bolster the Atypical Worker permit scheme. That scheme, introduced in 2015, was supposed to ensure that workers covered by it could no longer be underpaid, overworked, or otherwise exploited by boat-owners.
However, to date, the scheme has, according to the ITF, actually been used to exploit fishermen (mainly African and Asian) by holding the fear of deportation over them, as permits are controlled by boat-owners.
The ITF, armed with testimony from dozens of fishermen and the fact that gardaí have identified 26 suspected victims of trafficking in the industry, took the Government to court over its alleged failure to monitor the scheme and its administration. The sides went into mediation for two days in early April and have secured the following improvements:
The ITF welcomed the new powers for the WRC. It was concerned the MSO, which had responsibility for enforcement of maximum hours, rest periods, and safety onboard the fishing vessels, was not getting to the heart of any exploitation, as its surveys were by appointment, not unannounced, and it had initiated fewer than 10 prosecutions, since the atypical worker scheme came into effect in 2015. WRC inspections are unannounced.
“The ball is in the WRC’s court now,” said, Ken Fleming ITF co-ordinator for Britain and Ireland.
“I am very pleased at the mediation outcome. However, in February 2016, when this scheme was introduced, I expressed doubt that the industry would comply. It did not. I continue to doubt whether the industry is capable, on its own, to step up and move away from the scandals that have followed it over a long period.
“It is down to regulation enforcement. What’s different is the extended involvement of the WRC, which can now inspect issues that were only the property of the maritime survey office.
“Rest records, payslips must be furnished to the employee, as and when they are paid. This was one of the big loopholes used, as hours of work were wrongly averaged over a 12-month period. This made it impossible to determine the correct working time on vessels.”