DUBLIN - Recruited to Ireland with the promise of good wages, fishers from the Philippines - often in debt after paying illegal recruitment fees - travel across the world to provide better opportunities for themselves and their families. But a work permission scheme, introduced following exposure of trafficking and exploitation of undocumented workers in the sector, has now become a vehicle to exploit the same workers it was introduced to protect, according to workers' advocates.
Filipino workers make up the largest proportion of non-EEA fishers who travel here and are the focus of this cross-border collaboration. The investigative team follow their journey from their family in the Philippines to their treatment in Ireland - by vessel owners, the justice system and government. Based across the two countries, the team met fishers in Ireland - often unable to travel home to their families in the Philippines - some of which, at their lowest points, were left unable to afford food or to send their children to school.
There has been “an across the board failure” by the justice system when it comes to trafficking of migrant fishers, according to the key workers' union in Ireland, with no prosecutions relating to the Irish fishing sector to date. In addition, seven years after the transit of fishers through Northern Ireland to work on vessels off Ireland was exposed, human trafficking victims continue to present in similar situations to authorities. A review of the controversial work permission scheme has also 'ignored' fishers who have been left undocumented due to the strict conditions attached to the scheme, which experts say ties workers to one employer leaving them open to exploitation.
By analysing hundreds of documents obtained through freedom of information (FOI) requests, this work exposes ongoing exploitation in the sector that is having a devastating impact on migrant workers and their families back home.
Following the publication of HANDS ON DECK investigation, Patrick Costello, Green Party TD and party spokesperson for Justice, hosted an Oireachtas briefing on the exploitation of migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry and invited Noteworthy to present our findings.
This took place on 25 January 2023 in Leinster House and also included presentations by Michael O'Brien of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and Neil Bruton of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). Both organisations work with migrant fishers and are featured in our articles.
Civil servants, parliamentary assistants and politicians from a number of parties were in attendance, including Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, Independent Senator Eileen Flynn and Green Party TD Stephen Matthews.
Following the briefing, Costello spoke about the investigation in the Dáil and of the "very clear and quick reforms" being called on by the ITF and MRCI.
In response Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that "it's clear that some, if not many, migrant fishermen are being exploited and that's not acceptable and not something that we want to be a feature of our marine economy or the fishing industry in Ireland". He continued:
"I've heard and read about some really appalling examples of abuse that aren't far off modern day slavery."
He said that responsibility for this issue now falls to Minister Neale Richmond, following the recent resignation of Minister Damien English, adding that he would "certainly make sure that it's on his agenda for this year".
- The investigation "Hands on Deck", about how exploited migrant workers in the Irish fishing sector are being ‘failed’ and ‘ignored’, won the Irish Red Cross Humanitarian Awards for Journalism Excellence.
- The investigation "Hands on Deck", about how exploited migrant workers in the Irish fishing sector are being ‘failed’ and ‘ignored’, won the Investigative Writing Award at the Irish Food Writing Awards 2023.
Photo credit: Geela Garcia
- Irish justice system 'failing' migrant fishing workers who report exploitation - Noteworthy, 01/12/2022;
- Irish justice system 'failing' migrant fishing workers who report exploitation - TheJournal.ie, 01/12/2022;
- Navy boardings find 10 fishing vessels almost fully crewed by migrant fishers - Noteworthy, 01/12/2022;
- Navy boardings find 10 fishing vessels almost fully crewed by migrant fishers - TheJournal.ie, 01/12/2022;
- No Break: Undocumented workers excluded from fishing sector work permit reforms - Noteworthy, 02/12/2022;
- No Break: Undocumented workers excluded from fishing sector work permit reforms - TheJournal.ie, 02/12/2022;
- Underpaid and overworked: The serious allegations by migrant fishers to the WRC - Noteworthy, 04/12/2022;
- Underpaid and overworked: The serious allegations by migrant fishers to the WRC - TheJournal.ie, 04/12/2022;
- ‘I felt the punch land’: Human trafficking of overseas fishermen in Ireland - Philstar.com, 08/12/2022;
- Filipino fishers face exploitation by vessel owners and recruitment agencies - Philstar.com, 08/12/2022.
- The Explainer x Noteworthy: Are migrant fishers exploited in Ireland? - Noteworthy, 05/12/2022;
- The Explainer x Noteworthy: Are migrant fishers exploited in Ireland? - TheJournal.ie, 05/12/2022.
- Noteworthy wins prestigious award for investigation on exploitation of migrant fishers, Noteworthy, 14/14/2023.
- US Government finds Ireland is failing to convict traffickers or support their victims, The Journal, 16/06/2023.
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