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U.N. Criticizes Irish Fishers’ Scheme for Migrant Workers

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By MarEx 2019-02-18 17:45:58

Four U.N. Special Rapporteurs have signed a joint letter damning the Irish government’s work permit scheme for non-European workers in the fishing industry.

The letter comes from the Special Rapporteurs for the human rights of migrants, on contemporary forms of racism, on contemporary forms of slavery and on trafficking in persons. It says that the Atypical Work Scheme (AWS) “is not in line with international law and standards related to trafficking in persons and the human rights of migrants.”

The letter states: “According to the AWS, once a fisher’s work permit is granted, workers are eligible to work for only that employer, effectively tying migrant fishermen, their livelihood and immigration status to such employer and allegedly giving excessive power to potentially abusive employers over workers. As underlined below, this is not in line with international law and standards related to trafficking in persons and the human rights of migrants. 

“In connection to this, it has also been brought to our attention that those workers that could not convince their employers to apply for the AWS scheme have no choice but to remain undocumented. Undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, as they fear losing their job and consequently being at risk of deportation; therefore they often refrain from filing a complaint against their abusive employer.”

The letter also notes that, according to data to the rapporteurs' attention, 80.7 percent of respondents reported working more than 60 hours per week and 65.3 percent more than 100 hours per week, while the employment contract for the permit applied a standard 39 hour work per week.

Similarly, migrant fishermen working under the AWS reported that underpayment of wages is widespread. 40 percent of migrant fishermen under the AWS reported not feeling safe at work and 36.6 percent of them reported having either personally sustained injuries or witnessed others injured at work. One in four workers interviewed experienced verbal and/or physical abuse and one in five experienced discrimination, which included unequal pay or unfair share of the catch compared to other European fishermen. Migrant fishermen also reported having to take on more difficult or risky jobs and facing racist insults.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has praised the Rapporteurs' criticism, saying that the AWS exacerbates the problem of systemic exploitation of foreign workers in the Irish fishing industry. ITF coordinator for the U.K. and Ireland Ken Fleming said: “This is another vindication of what the ITF’s been saying since this doomed scheme was brought in. The U.N. joins the U.S. State Department and the Council of Europe in this deafening chorus of criticism of the Atypical Work Schem. And yet still the Irish government won’t listen, so workers continue to suffer and Ireland’s global reputation is dragged through the mud.

“We said this scheme would lead to modern day slavery, it has. We said it would lead to human trafficking, it has. When will the Irish government do the right thing and end this scheme, and work with us on a fair system that works? What more will it take for them to do the right thing? What are they waiting for?”

The letter is signed by Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.