PQ: Employment Rights (Fishing Industry 3)

Tue, November 10, 2015

217. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his plans to deal with the breach of workers’ rights in the fishing industry, as reported by a British newspaper (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter.

218. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views on reports of widespread abuse of workers’ rights and terms and conditions in the fishing industry; the steps he will take on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton): I propose to take Questions Nos. 217 and 218 together.

I am aware of the allegations to which the Deputy refers. I am very concerned by the reported circumstances and treatment of the workers involved and the alleged compromise of their safety. Any mistreatment of workers on Irish fishing vessels is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the State and its agencies.

That is why the Government decided last week to immediately establish an Inter-Departmental Taskforce chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, to examine the wide range of issues regarding the treatment of workers on board Irish fishing trawlers. The Taskforce had its 1st meeting on the 5th of November and will meet again this week.

The Taskforce has set itself a very tight timeframe in which to come up with proposals for Government and I look forward to considering these together with my Cabinet colleagues.

The Inspection service of the Workplace Relations Commission is also aware of the allegations in relation to Irish fishing vessels and I understand that a number of inspections related to this issue are presently underway, some in co-operation with other State bodies. The WRC does not comment on individual cases.

The enforcement of the National Minimum Wage, Payment of Wages, Terms and Conditions of Employment, Employment Agency and Employment Permits Acts in respect of workers employed on board Irish registered fishing vessels is a matter for inspectors of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). However, such legislation does not apply to persons classed as share fishermenfor Revenue purposes who are classed as self-employed persons rather than employees.

Marine Surveyors of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport are authorised officers insofar as the enforcement of rest periods and the maximum working time of seafarers and fishing vessel crews are concerned. Inspectors of the WRC have statutory powers to share information and carry out inspections with other State Bodies and there has been increasing liaison in this regard in 2015 between the WRC and the Department of Transport insofar as inspections in the fishing industry are concerned. Inspection activity for 2015 shows a significant increase on previous years.

The WRC is represented on the cross-Departmental Task Force established by the Government to deal with issues highlighted by the Guardian Report on illegal migrant workers on Irish fishing vessels. The WRC also participates in the North Atlantic Fisheries Project, led by An Garda Síochána, which has been established specifically to identify and support victims of trafficking within the marine sector. This project brings a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach to the issue, involving a broad range of competent State Agencies (including relevant marine, immigration and employment rights authorities) and civil society organisations.