With my last post on the blog highlighting research which pointed to Ireland’s at times poor record concerning severe labour exploitation, it was not particularly surprising to see a scandal break on trafficking and labour exploitation in the Irish fishing industry. What was surprising though was the detailed nature of the investigation that has been undertaken by the Guardian newspaper into such abusive practices in Ireland. Much prominence has rightly been given to the story by the media in Ireland, given how shocking the Guardian’s findings are:
African and Asian migrant workers are being routinely but illegally used as cheap labour on Irish fishing trawlers working out of some of the country’s most popular tourist ports, the Guardian can reveal.
A year-long investigation into the Irish prawn and whitefish sector has uncovered undocumented Ghanaian, Filipino, Egyptian and Indian fishermen manning boats in ports from Cork to Galway. They have described a catalogue of abuses, including being confined to vessels unless given permission by their skippers to go on land, and being paid less than half the Irish minimum wage that would apply if they were legally employed. They have also spoken of extreme sleep deprivation, having to work for days or nights on end with only a few hours’ sleep, and with no proper rest days.
Some migrant workers claim to have been deceived and appear to have been trafficked on to trawlers for labour exploitation, an abuse that would be a form of modern slavery.
The team of journalists have to be commended for the work undertaken, and it would be great to see the Irish media paying greater attention to the impact of business on human rights.
The Irish Government have reacted to the story by denying that they have turned a blind eye to the abuse and exploitation of workers. The following report from RTE highlights some of the responses given:
Meanwhile, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney has rejected suggestions that the Government has been “turning a blind eye” to reports of people-trafficking and exploitation of African and Asian workers on some Irish trawlers.
Ken Fleming, of the International Transport Workers Federation, said the industry had not had any work permits issued since 2005, and his organisation maintained that there was up to 8,000 migrant workers involved in the industry, most of them illegally.
Last night, the Irish Fish Processing Organisation said it wanted this issue resolved.
Mr Fleming said that every vessel that he came across, without an Irish skipper, would have a crew with 60% of migrant workers with the majority of them undocumented.
He claimed that the Government was complicit in the abuse and that there was no real input from Garda Immigration to the problem.
Mr Coveney denied this, saying that a specific garda unit had been established to investigate allegations of human trafficking in the fishing industry, while separate units in the Department of Foreign Affairs, the HSE and the Legal Aid Board were dealing with human trafficking more generally.
He appealed to anyone with evidence substantiating the allegations to tell the gardaí immediately.
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, said that Mr Coveney is to set up a working group to look at the conditions of some workers in the fishing Industry.
Mr Bruton also said the Government cannot give contract workers, working in the fishing industry, work permits.
He said the Government provide permits for areas of employment where there is a proven skilled shortage, where an employer has proven they cannot recruit people within Europe.
Such efforts to date have obviously proven ineffective, if this type of exploitation is considered an “open secret”. These revelations add impetus to the current efforts of the Irish Government to finalise a national action plan on business and human rights.