Settlement reached in High Court case on human trafficking in fishing industry

Settlement reached in High Court case on human trafficking in fishing industry

An agreement has been reached in mediation between a number of Government departments and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in a case relating to human trafficking and labour exploitation on the Irish fishing fleet.

The ITF brought High Court proceedings seeking an immediate moratorium on the grant or renewal of work permits under the atypical work permit scheme for non-EU fishermen, pending a review of conditions attached to the scheme.

The federation of transport workers’ trade unions said it had identified individuals who arrived in Ireland on foot of permits granted under the scheme, and who it alleged were subsequently subjected to human trafficking and other severe forms of labour exploitation on Irish fishing vessels.

In a joint statement, Government departments and the ITF said they had reached an agreement which would address the concerns.

The main terms of the agreement are:

  • Every intended participant under the Scheme is to receive their contract of employment in their native language, as well as English. The contract will include clear wording regarding the fisher’s entitlements to pay, working-hours, and rest periods. The letter of approval is also to be in the fisher’s native language, as well as English, as appropriate.
  • A link to a webpage explaining the fisher’s rights as an employee and where the fisher can make complaints regarding any violation of these rights will be provided to participants in the Scheme in their letter of approval.
  • As has previously been the case, the costs associated with applications under the Atypical Workers Scheme are not recoupable from the fisher’s wages.
  • No employment permission is granted to any non-EEA nationals to work in the State without a contract with a specific employer. Non-EEA fishers retain the right to transfer employment within the Scheme; any such transfer of employment can occur without the existing or previous employer’s consent.
  • Where the Department of Justice & Equality becomes aware that a fisher has left their employment, for any reason, before the end of their twelve month contract, a letter will issue to the non-EEA fisher requesting that they provide details of their new contract of employment under the Scheme to the Department of Justice and Equality within 28 days.
  • EU Directive 2017/159 will be transposed into Irish law by the 15th of November, regulating maximum hours of work, minimum hours of rest, and manning requirements aboard commercial fishing vessels.
  • The relevant bodies, i.e. the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), the Marine Survey Office (MSO), and the Department of Justice and Equality, will liaise with each other on the enforcement of S.I. 709 of 2003 (relating to the hours of work and rest on board fishing vessels).
  • The Oversight Committee, chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will meet on a two monthly basis for the first six months, starting in May, and quarterly thereafter, to monitor the Scheme and ensure that it is operating as intended.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), which exercised its function as an amicus curiae in the case, welcomed the settlement.

Chief commissioner Emily Logan said: “The Commission welcomes the news that the parties have reached an agreement and hopes, if properly implemented, that this will contribute to the fight against human trafficking and severe labour exploitation on Irish fishing vessels, and to ensuring that the rights of non-EEA fishermen are vindicated.

“Along with our work in the courts, the Commission will continue to co-operate with members of the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) in examining how the Irish state deals with human trafficking and how victims are supported and protected.”

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