Trafficked fishermen taken into care of State
Sixteen fishermen from outside the European Union, who gardaí suspect have been trafficked for exploitation in the industry, have been taken into the care of the State.
Gardaí are investigating the cases of the men, from Egypt, the Philippines and Ghana, under the provisions of the 2008 Human Trafficking Act. A person convicted under the Act faces a penalty of up to life in prison.
Twelve of the men arrived in Ireland with permits granted under an Atypical Working Scheme (AWS) for non-European Economic Area (EEA) crew in the Irish fishing fleet, established especially for the industry in 2016.
According to the United Nations, human trafficking includes the transportation, recruitment or receipt of people, by means of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power or vulnerability.
Four others, from Ghana, arrived in Belfast at the end of January with UK transit visas to work on vessels out of Belfast. They were brought directly across the Border and worked on vessels out of ports including Howth in Dublin, Dunmore East in Co Waterford and Castletownbere in Co Cork without Irish permits, before being asked to leave a boat in Howth at the beginning of April. They are now being accommodated in the Balseskin reception centre in Dublin, having been referred to gardaí by the International Transport Federation (ITF) trade union.
The men have the right to work while they await the outcome of the investigation, and must remain in the State as witnesses.
The ITF, which is affiliated to Siptu, describes the AWS as “unfit for purpose” and is calling on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to suspend the scheme.
They say the scheme, established amid concerns of widespread exploitation in the industry, is being widely ignored and undermined, with evidence of wages as low as ¤2.40 an hour, 20-hour working days and neither sick-pay nor insurance.
In a report earlier this year, the Irish Naval Service said between January 2016 and last September, it boarded and inspected 86 Irish-registered fishing vessels and found 182 non-EEA crew members. Some 73 had the required permits and 109 had not, it said.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said :“This Government abhors any abuse of proper employment conditions, in any circumstance.
“In the matter of abuses or otherwise of the employment conditions of any non-EEA national in the Irish fishing industry, the relevant authorities are primarily the Workplace Relations Commission and the Marine Survey Office.”
‘‘ This Government abhors any abuse of proper employment conditions