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A bid by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) for an injunction against the State over a work permit scheme it claims is allowing migrant fishermen to be exploited and trafficked has been dismissed by the High Court.
Mr Justice Tony O’Connor, in refusing the application, said he accepted the ITF may be trying to prevent something that is one of “the world’s worst human rights abuses”, namely human trafficking of migrant workers.
However, the court “could not ignore that stark warning given by responsible ofthat of State bodies about the adverse effect on those non-EEA workers who can benefit from the protections having joined the scheme”.
The judge said he did not accept evidence on behalf of the IT Ft hat the scheme could be amended in order to accommodate those workers who benefit from it.
He held that the ITF, at this stage, had not established a strong case of probability that the apprehended mischief will arise from the scheme which it wants to be deleted.
The ITF had sought an order restraining the justice minister from granting or reviewing any further per- missions under the scheme, known as the atypical working scheme for non-EEA crew in the Irish fishing fleet which are conditional on an employee remaining in the employment of a particular employer or vessel.
The IT F, in its action against the minister, Ireland, and attorney general claims migrant fishermen working on Irish-registered trawlers were exploited, underpaid, racially abused, worked to exhaustion, and in some cases had been assaulted to a degree that their working conditions were akin to “modern slavery”.
In a preliminary application, the ITF, which repreficers sents unions and transport workers all over the world, asked the court for the injunction to be put in place pending the final outcome of the action, which is due to be heard sometime next year.
The scheme was introduced by the Government in 2016 following the exploitation of workers within the Irish fishing industry exposed in a UK newspaper.
The ITF claims the scheme does not protect workers from exploitation and human trafficking. It says there are more than a dozen cases of potential human trafficking arising from the scheme that are the subject of criminal investigations.
The State opposed the application and denied the ITF claims in relation to the scheme. It argued the injunction, if granted, could put non-E EA fisher men in greater risk and danger of exploitation because inspectors would have no power to enforce employment rights, that future workers in the sector could be deported, and that the suspension of the scheme could have an impact on cases currently before the courts.
In his ruling, the judge said when it came to assessing where the great risk of injustice lay, he had to take regard of certain factors including giving weight to the implementation of the scheme has a prima facie validity.
The court also had to take into account the safeguards in place to discourage, investigate, and prosecute trafficking, the extent of which was not challenged in the application, he said.
It further had to take into account the interest in hearing from those actually affected by the suspension of the scheme.
When all these factors are taken into account, the judge said he was refusing the injunction.
The case will be mentioned before the court in February.