Just two days after the ITF warned that the Irish government’s system of permits for migrant fishers was ‘legitimising slavery’, the former jobs minister has admitted hearing ‘alarming allegations’ of abuse and called on the government to scrap and replace the system.
The system to give migrant workers legal status and protect their rights was introduced in early 2016 after a collaboration between the ITF and a number of media agencies exposed the extent of exploitation in the Irish fishing industry. The government made available 500 one-year permits to owners who were required to pay the statutory minimum wage to migrant workers and provide them with a solicitor-backed contract. While welcoming government action on the issue, the ITF had warned that without effective inspection and enforcement the permits would be worthless.
Several of the 68 migrant fishers who attended an ITF meeting on 6 February reported being underpaid and overworked, with claims of 100-hour weeks with insufficient rest periods. ITF UK and Ireland co-ordinator Ken Fleming told them that immediate action was needed to end the abuse. He called for all undocumented migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry to be given leave to stay, adding that if owners didn’t comply with labour laws then their fishing licences should be withdrawn.
Mr Fleming said: “Even Senator Gerald Nash, who as jobs minister helped set up the scheme, has now admitted that the government’s permit system has failed.
“Government inspections have found that a quarter of migrant fishers are not in the scheme. And boat owners have used the system to move from paying crews on a share system to paying the minimum wage, with crew working over 100 hours for €350 a week.”
The ITF plans to highlight the situation at the European Parliament later in February and is holding a meeting with the chair of the Irish enforcement agency, the Workplace Relations Commission.