Migrant fishermen report exploitative working conditions

Migrant fishermen report exploitative working conditions

Joshua Baafi, originally from Ghana, contributed to a report which looked at the treatment of non-EEA male migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

For Joshua Baafi (38), working as a fisherman on Irish waters was unbearable. He worked 23 hours without a break, was paid just over €1,000 a month and felt he couldn’t quit because of his undocumented status.

A report, conducted by Maynooth University’s law department, and funded by the International Transport Workers’ Federation, was launched on Tuesday, which looked at the treatment of non-EEA male migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry.

Mr Baafi, from Ghana, was among those to contribute to the report. He was allegedly trafficked into the country in 2018 under the pretence he would be able to avail of a good job in the sector upon his arrival.

“We flew from Ghana to Amsterdam, to Belfast. Somebody transferred us from Belfast to Howth [in Dublin],” he said.

We would then fish for maybe seven days. The Irish guys racially abused us. We worked more hours than them, between 21 hours and 23 hours without rest. Any jobs you have to do, you can’t say no.” 

Mr Baafi left the fishing industry after three months and was recognised as a potential victim of human trafficking through the national referral mechanism. He now works in a warehouse, which he says gives him a much better quality of life.

However, Mr Baafi is not alone, with many migrants in the fishing industry reporting similar treatment.

One current fisherman from Egypt, who requested to remain anonymous, has worked as a fisherman in Ireland for six years and described unbearable working conditions.

Migrant worker thrown overboard

He recalled one incident when a migrant worker was thrown overboard and almost died because he wanted to take a break.

“Sometimes I work more than 20 hours a day, sometimes I work for 48 hours and only get a five-hour break to sleep,” he said through a translator.

“You work any time, it depends on how many fish are there. Most of the time, we don’t sleep. One time, when a man was sick, he still had to work. Another time, the [skipper] threw a man from Ghana in the sea.” 

Some 24 respondents were included in the report, with more than half reporting being subjected to racist insults and verbal abuse, while a third said they felt unsafe on the ships where they work.

The report also found “extremely long working hours with few breaks, very low wages [usually below minimum wage given hours worked], racist insults and verbal abuse” were common experiences among those interviewed.

Michael O’Brien, fisheries campaign lead in Ireland for the ITF, said the report leads to the conclusion that the “atypical work permit scheme [AWS] as it is constituted is very much part of the problem”.

The AWS was introduced in 2016 to protect non-EEA workers in the fishing industry. Under the scheme, workers are contracted to an individual employer.

“The scheme ties the fisher to the individual boat owner in yearly renewable contracts,” he said.

“The power the employer has over the fisher is immense."

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