An international union has lambasted the Irish government for failing to prosecute traffickers in the fishing industry despite “‘irrefutable” evidence of migrant fishermen being exploited.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) gave the government an ‘F’ grade, for the third year running, for failing to protect vulnerable workers in the fishing industry.
The scathing criticism follows the publication of the US ‘Trafficking In Persons’ report last week, which downgraded Ireland to a ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ country for not doing enough to combat the trafficking of people for work or sex over the past year.
The report by the US State Department saw Ireland becoming the only country in Western Europe to be ranked as a 'Tier 2 Watch List' country.
ITF co-ordinator for Ireland and Britain, Ken Fleming, said while it and other organisations highlighted systematic deficiencies in victim identification, referral, and assistance over the past year, the government still failed to protect fishermen and other vulnerable workers from trafficking and “gross exploitation” despite "irrefutable evidence".
The ITF said a fall in the number of suspected victims identified was also of concern. “We are concerned about both monitoring and enforcement. The number of suspected victims identified by the State has been falling in recent years, from 64 in 2018 and 57 in 2019, to 42 this year,” Mr Fleming said.
“If Ireland wishes to avoid an ‘F’ on exploitation for a fourth year running, it must immediately work with unions to grow its monitoring and enforcement against the trade in human misery currently taking place under its very nose,” he added.
Where victims were identified, Mr Fleming said, it was only through the efforts of the ITF that substantial compensation for them was secured. Last year the ITF secured €137,000 in restitution to eight trafficking victims for lost wages, before the Labour Relations Commission.
“The Irish government has allowed whole sectors of the economy to develop a low-wage model that can only be sustained by bringing in vulnerable workers from Asia and Africa. By their inaction, the State is allowing unscrupulous employers to regard these workers as totally expendable, as people they can hire and fire with impunity because of the inability or unwillingness of state agencies to uphold the law,” Mr Fleming said.
“At every point since 2008 when the ITF has raised issues with the relevant Government department, or state agency, they have only responded when confronted with irrefutable evidence and then did so reluctantly and in a minimalist way,” he added.