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Minister says undocumented fishermen not entitled to work permits

A government working group is to examine allegations of abuse in Ireland’s fishing industry.

Source: The Guardian/YouTube

Updated at 2.50pm

MOST UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS trafficked into Ireland’s fishing industry are not eligible for work permits, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton has said.

Bruton was speaking following calls by the Irish Fish Producers Association (IFPA) to regularise the employment status of African and Asian migrants allegedly working as cheap labour on Irish trawlers.

A year-long investigation published in The Guardian yesterday alleged that undocumented workers often work on Irish vessels for days on end without any sleep or basic safety training.

It claimed that some migrant workers are paid less than half the minimum wage, while many are being detained on boats unless given permission to go on land.

The government announced this afternoon that it has decided to “immediately” set up an inter-departmental taskforce to examine claims made in the report.

Francis O’Donnell of the IFPA told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke earlier today that the organisation had previously sought a meeting with Bruton to discuss the need to provide undocumented workers with work permits.

However, speaking on the News at One, the minister countered that permits are not appropriate for “the majority of workers” cited in the report, saying only skilled non-EU workers can be granted permission to work here.

Bruton added that undocumented fisherman “seem to be involved in a catch-share arrangement” that means they are consider contractors rather than workers.

download (1) Source: The Guardian

‘Open secret’

Earlier today, Ella McSweeney, one of seven reporters who worked on the report, said the alleged exploitation of migrant workers trafficked to work in the industry has been “an open secret” for years.

McSweeney told Morning Ireland today that the abuse is an industry-wide problem, but that there are no definite figures for the number of affected workers.

“There are good trawler owners and they unfortunately find themselves having to compete with those who are not paying [or] withholding the pay of workers, some of whom are smuggled or trafficked in,” she said.

McSweeney also claimed that Irish courts have been too lenient in dealing with industry violations of labour law.

“As recently as a few months ago, there were breaches of safety legislation where an Egyptian fisherman was taken out to sea by a boat owner without any basic safety training. The court told the owner to give €1,000 to the poor box,” she said.

Responding to the report last night, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said he was “very concerned” about its claims of abuse.

Coveney said a project led by the Garda Síochána has been established “specifically to address concerns in relation to potential human trafficking in the maritime sector (including fishing)”.

Read: Major investigation by The Guardian lays bare ‘modern slavery’ on Irish fishing trawlers

Read: From Vietnam to Mountjoy: Shackled by debt, trafficked and trapped in an Irish growhouse

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Catherine Healy

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