Irish Government Reports on Trafficked Fishermen
Following the establishment of a dedicated task force, the Irish government has issued its Report of the Government Task Force on Non-European Economic Area (EEA) workers in the Irish Fishing Fleet December 2015. The report was instigated in response to The Guardian (November 2, 2015) article raising the issue of trafficked migrant fishermen and in which it revealed that: “African and Asian migrant workers are being routinely but illegally used as cheap labor on Irish fishing trawlers working out of some of the country’s most popular tourist ports.”
The report was chaired by Simon Coveney T.D. Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine in which he stated in the foreword that: “The scheme to allow for the structured and transparent employment of non-EEA workers within a defined framework in the Irish fishing fleet, as set out in this report, has been endorsed by Government. While the issues addressed in the report focus solely on bringing forward recommendations in the Irish context, the potential exploitation of such workers is a global phenomenon and certainly not unique to Ireland.
“In making its recommendations the task force was focused on bringing forward practical arrangements which will enable the risks of exploitation to be minimized while ensuring that reputable employers are able to recruit trained and experienced crew members. Ireland’s whitefish sector will benefit from the implementation of the main recommendations in this report.”
The Task Force was “established with a specific remit – to examine the issues raised by The Guardian article and to formulate a coordinated and effective cross-government response to the matter. Given this focus, the task force did not address the wider issues of human trafficking.
The Guardian has responded with an updated article dated December 17, 2015 in which it asserted that “The Irish government was aware of the trafficking of migrant workers into its fishing fleet as long ago as 2010 but failed to tackle the problem.”
Mark Lagon, the U.S. State Department’s former ambassador on trafficking and president of the human rights watchdog Freedom House is quoted by The Guardian as saying that the taskforce report had come up with “a purgatory position in which to place workers without regularizing their legal status.”
In the December 17, article he went on to state: “Saying this is a problem everywhere in the world does not mean it does not need acute attention in Ireland. When people are in a grey zone where their immigration status is vulnerable, it can be exploited grossly. The report doesn’t go far enough; the issue they should be giving attention to is the one of human trafficking.”
Human Rights at Sea has reviewed The Guardian articles and the Irish government report. The charity raises the following points specifically in relation to human rights protections in the maritime environment.
• In response to the non-EEA migrant worker issue first raised by The International Transport Federation (ITF) Union in 2008 and The Guardian in November this year, the report should have addressed the issue of human trafficking at first instance.
• The report is otherwise a good start in the absence of any other Irish government endorsed publication specifically addressing the issue of non-EEA migrant workers. It puts the focus on the employer to take positive and accountable steps for employing non-EEA crew, though noticeably only on vessels above 15 meters.
• The issue of employee repatriation has been addressed. It puts the onus on the employer for returning individuals back home at the end of their employment. For non-EEA migrants in the fishing industry seeking legitimate employment this provides a safeguard supporting their human right to continued family life at the end of their contracts.
• The protection of human rights is explicitly addressed within the report. It makes it clear that in respect of any abuses of an individual’s human rights, applicable domestic and E.U. legislation will be applied. This is a positive indication that a state closely engaged with its national fishing industry will expressly seek to uphold human rights through all available legal channels.
• For alleged breaches of employment rights there are established complaint mechanisms. However, within the report, there is currently no mechanism for specifically addressing individual complaints concerning allegations of human rights abuses in the Irish fishing industry.
Human Rights at Sea CEO, David Hammond, commented that: “As with many such reports it is easy to criticize what is missing, where the report could have gone further and perceived failures in applying effective remedies for abuses. Our charity is clear, for example, that a specific complaints procedure is needed for raising, logging and allowing effective investigation of human rights abuses which occur at sea.
“Nevertheless, while the report in its current form cannot fully protect migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry and in the absence of anything credibly able to effectively address the issues raised by the entities quoted, this report is still a significant step forwards in explicitly raising the over-arching issue of protecting human rights in the maritime space.
“I am pleased to note that the Irish government has explicitly highlighted the application of national and E.U. law in dealing with reported abuses of human rights. We now wait to see what effect the application of the report will have, and its effectiveness in protecting individual fisher’s human rights whatever state they originate from.”
The report is available here.