A QUARTER OF Irish fishing vessels that were inspected by the state were caught with illegal workers on board last year, new figures show.
The investigation comes amid claims that a system for giving permits to fishing workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) – introduced in an attempt to regulate the sector – is ineffective and that exploitation is still rife.
A former minister who helped set up the scheme says many workers are doing 100-hour weeks and only being paid for a standard 39 hours, while a key union official claims employers still aren’t properly held to account.
There are also suggestions that thousands of undocumented workers could still be employed in Irish waters.
In 2015, an investigation by the Guardian found that workers from Africa and Asia were routinely being employed illegally on Irish fishing trawlers and were being exploited as a source of cheap labour.
It claimed that undocumented workers often worked for days on end without sleep or basic safety training, while often being paid below the minimum wage.
Ken Fleming, an official from the International Transport Federation who helped the Guardian during its investigation, said that the permit scheme has proved ineffective.
Speaking to Fora, he said: “There is no one that can convince me that the permit scheme is working.
“The boat owners are being cuddled with the policy of encouragement to make people comply. Is that the way we get rid of drunk drivers, by encouraging and cuddling them? It’s a joke.”
Fleming also said that he “didn’t accept” that 25% of vessels had illegal workers on board – and claimed that the figure was likely much higher.
As of the end of March, just 187 permits that would allow staff to legally work in the fishing industry for a year have been granted.