Deputy Broughan recently asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, to report on the continuing serious allegations of illegal pay and conditions for workers in the fishing industry. In a reply to his Parliamentary Question received last week, Deputy Broughan was informed that there 157 contraventions discovered during inspections of fleets by the Inspectorate and Enforcement Division of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). The reply states that two-thirds of the fleet “that comes within the aegis of the Atypical Worker Permission Scheme” were inspected by the end of 2016 and the remainder of inspections will be carried out by the summer of this year.
Minister Mitchell O’Connor, in her reply, states that “in 2015 the Government established a Task Force on allegations regarding treatment of workers on Irish fishing trawlers” and that “arising out of the conclusion of the Taskforce’s work, an atypical work permission scheme was introduced for non-EEA fishermen working on Irish fishing vessels. The scheme is administered by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish National Immigration Service (INIS) on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine”. The reply states that a “number of agencies and organisations are involved in the monitoring and enforcement of the scheme and have signed up to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in order to provide a rigorous and effective inspection system. They include An Garda Siochana, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, INIS, the Marine Survey Office of the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport, the Naval Service, the Health and Safety Authority, the Revenue Commissioners, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine”.
The reply explains the involvement and responsibilities of the various agencies involved and states that the “WRC’s responsibilities relate to the enforcement of the Employment Permits Acts and employment rights legislation including minimum wage legislation. The Marine Survey Office in the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport is responsible for enforcing legislation relating to the rest periods and maximum working time of seafarers and fishing vessel crews”.
Of the 157 contraventions that were detected throughout 2016 there were “28 instances of illegal workers, 58 records contraventions, 12 contraventions of the Atypical Scheme, 59 other employment rights contraventions and so far 2 prosecutions have been initiated”. “The WRC’s objective is to facilitate voluntary compliance insofar as contraventions notified are concerned. In this regard, Employers/Vessel Owners are afforded all reasonable opportunity to rectify contraventions and, where relevant, pay any unpaid wages and/or make good on entitlements arising from these contraventions. However, it is the policy of the WRC to issue Compliance Notices or Fixed Payment Notices and/or to initiate legal proceedings in cases where an Employer/Vessel Owner has failed or is unwilling to effect compliance.
The reply goes on to say that the “Health and Safety Authority (HSA), as part of its broader national remit also undertakes inspections of fishing vessels as these are defined as workplaces under health and safety legislation. In 2016 the HSA carried out 23 inspections of fishing vessels under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. Planned actions in the HSA’s Programme of Work for 2017 include 50 inspections of fishing vessels and continued support for the memorandum of understanding agreed by relevant state enforcement bodies to provide an effective inspection system for the sector”.
Deputy Broughan says “While I welcome the multi-agency approach there seems to be in relation to monitoring and policing working conditions on fishing vessels, it is disappointing to see such a high number of contraventions. Clearly this will need to be an ongoing, annual inspection and that revisits to ensure that contraventions have since been rectified will be required. I also wonder what feedback is received from actual workers and whether there are any channels of communication for them to the Department of Justice and INIS. I am urging the Minister to continue with these positive steps and ensure that the fishing industry is held to account for workers’ pay and conditions. I also believe that resources continue to be necessary to ensure good training and industry entry supports for Irish workers and entrepreneurs in sea fisheries, especially approaching Brexit and the review/renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy.”