Archive for July, 2012

 

The following is an extract from a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Forced labour in Northern Ireland: exploiting vulnerability”  The full report can be accessed here http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/forced-labour-Northern-Ireland-full.pdf

5 The fishing industry

The Northern Ireland licensed sea-fishing industry is mainly concentrated in three fishing ports on the east coast of County Down: Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie. In December 2006, there were 313 vessels registered in Northern Ireland (35 based at Ardglass, 112 at Kilkeel, 51 at Portavogie and 115 elsewhere). The fleet depends mainly on fishing opportunities in the Irish Sea and the North Channel and it is the main UK fishery interest in the Irish Sea. It was estimated that in 2008 the entire industry employed around 1,900 people (both full- and part-time), with some 700 employed in the processing sector, 613 in the catching sector and 258 within aquaculture. While by 2010 various sources indicated that there were around 1,200 employed in the fishing industry in County Down with 598 of these working as fishermen.15

In recent years the fishing industry has turned to other areas to recruit workers with fishermen being recruited from the Philippines since late 2006.16 The exact number of Filipinos employed within the fishing industry is uncertain but it has been estimated that up to 1,000 Filipinos work in Scotland, at least 200 in the Republic of Ireland and 160 in Northern Ireland (The Observer, 14 December 2009).

The abuse of migrant fishermen globally has been highlighted in reports by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (2006) and the Environmental Justice Foundation (2010). Both organisations noted cases of physical and verbal abuse of fishermen, extremely poor working conditions with very poor or erratic payment and a lack of safety provision and care, as well as other forms of behaviour and activity that served as forms of constraint and coercion on the workers.

Recent research in Scotland has highlighted the increasingly important role in the fishing industry that is being played by a migrant workforce, not least because of the relative unattractiveness to locals of the low pay, poor working conditions and sometimes seasonal nature of the work (De Lima, et al., 2005; De Lima, et al., 2007). Similarly, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Seminar Series ‘Mapping the Policy Landscape: Change and Continuity in Scotland’s Fishing Communities’ (2008) highlighted the unattractive working conditions as a factor in not recruiting and retaining local fishing crews, especially among young workers. It was stressed here that migrant labour was now an established part of the fishing workforce both ashore (e.g. processing) and at sea and, although the aim among the migrants was to accumulate money before returning to their home country, workers could expect contrasting experiences:

Stories of living aboard boats, overcrowding in onshore accommodation and low wage exploitation contrast strongly with reports of ‘adoption’ by skippers’ families and equal pay and working conditions with fellow Scottish workers.

ESRC, 2008: p. 12

De Lima et al. (2007) also found little evidence of integration among migrants working in the fishing industry as they had few opportunities to engage with local communities, mainly because of lack of time, poor English, a lack of activities and the need to save as much money as possible. In practice most socialising took place with other migrant workers and the migrants remained relatively isolated and marginalised overall.

Migrant fishermen in Northern Ireland

The issue of the maltreatment of Filipino fishermen in Northern Ireland was first highlighted prominently in May 2008, when the Newsletter recounted how eleven Filipinos had returned to the Philippines after two

weeks in hiding following a violent incident involving the son of the skipper of their fishing boat (Newsletter 7 May 2008). The men had been living in caravans and on the fishing boat and were sent out cockle picking and mussel gathering as well as crewing the fishing boat. Following the assault the men approached a local priest who spoke their language, Tagalog, and they were eventually repatriated after an intervention by the Philippines Ambassador to the UK.17

Further details of the incident were highlighted in a report by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in November 2008, which also cited:

Long working hours for low pay, poor accommodation, no sanitary or social facilities, and fears and intimidation emanating from their respective employment agents in the Philippines and Northern Ireland should they complain about their employment situation.

ITF, 2008: p. 9

The report noted that the fishermen had been recruited in the Philippines through the ‘Super Manning Agency’ and they appear to have been charged a fee for the job placement, a practice that was against ILO rules. In an interview with a member of a local group in Kilkeel who had helped the Filipinos, the individual noted that the men had said that that agency in Manila had showed them a video of a large, new fishing boat with proper sleeping accommodation, which was nothing like the boat they ended up working on. According to this interviewee the fishermen also noted that when they arrived in Northern Ireland the skipper took their passports, and the police had to intervene to ensure that the fishermen got them back before they were able to leave.

The ITF report described the situation ‘akin to forced or compulsory labour’ and identified a range of problems affecting migrant fishermen in Ireland and Scotland:

Chief amongst these are refusals by the fishing boat owners to repatriate migrant fishermen and/or to abandon them in a foreign port; or to impose excessively onerous working hours on seafarers without any entitlement to overtime payment. Another practice that has been linked to forced or compulsory labour is the practice of withholding wages; in effect the seafarer is without means to return home, regardless of whether they are sick or injured or have family problems back home.

ITF, 2008: p. 2

Further problems in Kilkeel were identified in August 2008 when two more fishermen sought assistance from the local community after complaining about the ill-treatment towards them by the owner of the fishing vessel (ITF, 2008: p. 10). The BBC subsequently produced a special investigative report (9 December 2008) which referred to evidence of physical and racial abuse of Filipino nationals in the fishing industry, and spoke of ‘horrendous working hours’ with workers having to work seven days in a row and for up to 34 hours without sleep. The men also complained that they could be paid as little as £20 for five days’ work. One boat owner noted that the Filipino fishermen did at least have a contract, which guaranteed them a monthly fee, whereas local fishermen only received a share of the catch. However, the BBC noted that the contract guaranteed them $515 per month, which worked out at around £1.20 per hour. Similar problems were reported in 2009 at another port, Portavogie, where Filipino fishermen were also employed under poor conditions and with pay well below the statutory minimum wage.18 Despite the poor pay and conditions the report said that the fishermen were well treated and that they felt that the pay was ‘better than nothing’. They also noted that they could not demand a minimum wage because they did not have valid work permits.

One factor that facilitated the exploitation of the fishermen was that they were present in Northern Ireland on a ‘transit visa’, which allowed them entry to the UK to join a specifically named vessel on the basis that they would then leave the UK and sail to a foreign port. However, the ITF investigation found that most of the migrant workers join vessels not listed on their transit visa and do not sail to a foreign

port. The use of transit visas limited the opportunities of the fishermen to seek alternative work if they were being exploited and left them in a vulnerable situation and liable to deportation by the immigration authorities. The ITF also made the point:

The Northern Ireland fishing industry has intimated that they would like to expand the employment of migrant labour through the use of ‘transit visas with no apparent accountability or protection for human and trade union rights’, which in the ITF view is unacceptable and can only mean under the current climate more misery for migrant workers and the further decline of the EEA nationals currently employed in the UK and Irish fishing industry.

ITF, 2008: p. 13

The research team followed up on these various reports and spoke to a number of individuals working within the fishing industry as well as clergy, trade unionists, lawyers and community workers, who had first-hand experience of the situation and of trying to assist the Filipino workers, and who were able to corroborate and elaborate on the media and other reports. However, it proved impossible to access any of the migrant fishermen either because they were inaccessible, or because if they chose to complain about their conditions it was in practice the first step to leaving Northern Ireland and returning home. Some Northern Irish people working in the fishing industry who were approached were reluctant to highlight the issues being raised, or to point the finger at particular individuals, and the unwillingness to discuss the issue extended to other sections of the local communities in fishing towns.

One individual said, though, that the ITF had created unnecessary tensions and portrayed an unfair picture of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland by writing a report ‘consisting merely of allegations’ of maltreatment of foreign fishermen. This informant felt that the ITF report, like so many other reports, had completely failed to understand how the fishing industry works and the nature of the employment, with its long hours and unconventional times. However, one press report quoted a Filipino worker in Portavogie as saying that the report of the poor working conditions for Filipino fishermen in Kilkeel had ‘alerted other employers which led to improvement in their working and living conditions’.19

One interviewee stated that the identified skipper had looked after the fishermen by providing food and other items for them, while another acknowledged that ‘on occasion’ the skipper raised his voice and could be ‘bad tempered’, but he said that this was nothing along the lines referred to in various reports. In part this came down to the limited levels of English among the fishermen and that, in order for the skipper to get messages across, sometimes ‘situations got heated’.

When we approached people about the possibility of interviewing crew members the research team was told by one informant that: ‘It is not possible to interview the Filipino fishermen as they are afraid of being sent home and want to keep out of the public eye.’ This may well have been the case, but it may well also reflect something of the level of control and intimidation that is being exerted over the fishermen.

Responding to criticism

The ITF report notes that in a meeting with the producer organisations in Northern Ireland the fishing boat representatives vehemently denied that there were any problems with migrant workers in Kilkeel or indeed anywhere else in Northern Ireland and they rejected the allegations being made against the boat owners. There was, however, an acknowledgement of the need for a more structured regime for the employment of migrant fishing workers in Northern Ireland. The ITF plus community and trade union representatives met officials from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2009 to highlight the issue and presented a number of ‘affidavits of complaint’ from Filipino seafarers about the human rights abuses.

In June 2009 the UK Border Agency announced what was described as ‘a tightening’ of the regulations regarding the employment of Filipino fishermen on fishing vessels using transit visa loopholes to gain entry into the UK. These changes meant among other things that each migrant would only be allowed on vessels outside the 12-mile limit, while no more transit visas would be issued for Filipino fishermen entering the UK (The Irish Skipper, June 2009). These changes were highlighted by the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (20 August 2009) for a domestic audience (and perhaps recruitment agencies), which stressed that Filipino fishermen recruited to work in the UK fishing industry ‘should be in possession of valid work visas’.

Further changes introduced by the UK Border Agency in March 2010 meant that fishermen from outside the EEA would be able to apply to work on board fishing vessels operating within a 12-mile limit. Seafarers would have to receive the UK minimum wage and live onshore with accommodation monitored by the agency, while in the event of any abuses, harsh penalties could be imposed on the captain. The International Transport Workers’ Federation came out in support of the changes:

The Border Agency should be congratulated for its efforts to recognise the complaints made on behalf of abused overseas fishers in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Moreover, in time, its actions will provide more local people with the opportunity to find work in this industry. The penalty for breaching regulations will be severe. Fishers will no longer have to sleep and live on vessels in port that are not fit for purpose.20

Although the government has responded to the problem of the abuse and exploitation of migrant fishermen and has attempted to close loopholes in the visa system, there are still indications that problems of the exploitation of fishermen in Northern Ireland remain. For example, some contacts suggested that there had been a diversification away from reliance on Filipino fishermen to the employment of North Africans, Russians and Turks in the fishing industry.

Furthermore, one individual, who had helped one group of Filipino fishermen return home, noted that there had been further problems in the summer of 2010 when two Nigerians made contact with a member of the local community in Kilkeel complaining about the poor working conditions, the absence of promised pay and the withholding of their passports by the skipper of the fishing boat on which they had been working. As a result of a few telephone calls the local police spoke to the skipper and informed him that while they were initially treating the complaint as a civil matter, should the two fishermen not receive their money or have their passports returned within 24 hours they would view the issue in a different light. The money was duly paid, apparently, the passports returned within the specified time, and the two men left Kilkeel.

Another interviewee, the director of a prominent Northern Ireland-wide NGO, reported that he had been contacted in November 2010 by a migrant working as a fisherman in Kilkeel and raising similar concerns to those already identified. The problem of the exploitation of migrant fishing workers on boats out of Kilkeel and other ports therefore appears to be persisting despite the reforms to the visa system.

Fish processing industry

While most of the attention has been focused on the experiences of migrants working on fishing boats, we were also made aware that migrants who were being employed in the fish processing section of the industry – gutting, cleaning and packing fish and shellfish once it had been landed – might also be subjected to poor working conditions. One woman who had previously worked in a fish packing factory in Kilkeel agreed to be interviewed as part of this research, while a further example was obtained when a person working in a processing factory made complaints against his employers.

Assia arrived in Northern Ireland in 2006 after being recruited in her home country of Bulgaria when the owner of the fish factory (referred to as ‘the boss’) travelled to Bulgaria to meet a number of

potential recruits. Assia signed a one-year contract, which was written entirely in English and at that time her knowledge of English was limited. She was aware that the job involved packing prawns and that pay would be based on the number of boxes packed, but she believed that the money would be better than in Bulgaria. She was also told that accommodation would be provided but was informed by a friend that the working conditions were cold and ‘the boss’ would shout at the staff.

On arrival in Belfast, Assia was picked up at the airport and taken to her accommodation, which involved sharing with six other employees. This was not considered ‘problematic’ as it meant she did not have to worry about finding accommodation while also beginning a new job. However, working hours in the factory were erratic and were phoned through to the house, and she realised if she moved elsewhere she might not get information about work and might lose her job.

Assia did not receive any proper training, nor was she told about any health and safety issues. She was required to buy boots and other garments for work, although an apron was provided. Assia soon realised that the job was tedious and quite intense and that she was not paid the amount referred to in the contract or in talks with ‘the boss’. She also discovered that there were differences in the salaries paid to different staff: ‘Me and another girl, we go to work, we do the same thing … we work at the same table and we get different salary … I don’t know why.’ Employees were forced to work whenever required and there was little sympathy for any sickness. ‘You were not allowed to be sick … no sick-pay … I got asthma in factory and I needed to go to doctor but the boss said that if you are sick so long just get back home.’ When she queried such issues with ‘the boss’ he simply replied that if the situation did not suit her then she should leave the country and go back where she came from: ‘My problem was that I asked too much.’

All the foreign workers were required to give their passports to ‘the boss’ when they arrived. On one occasion, when a fellow worker requested his passport be returned, ‘the boss’ refused to hand it over. In response the worker contacted the police and, although ‘the boss’ denied any wrongdoing, when the police arrived ‘he had no choice than to leave him his passport’.

Although intervention by the police meant her colleague got his passport back, Assia felt that there was ‘no real help’ to turn to about the working conditions. Eventually, she contacted her embassy in Dublin and was advised to go back to Bulgaria and to ‘provide evidence’ of wrongdoings at the factory. Instead she decided to leave the job, which also meant she was forced to find another place to live. When she left, ‘the boss’ banned her from returning to visit her friends and when he caught her in the house on one occasion she said she felt unsafe and scared. Assia referred to this period as ‘not a good time’ and noted: ‘The village is a small place if you are in that situation.’

Assia had volunteered to work in Northern Ireland and had been generally made aware of the conditions in the fish factory, but nevertheless there were elements of control, constraint and dependency in her relationship with her employer. Her passport was retained, her working hours were erratic, her pay was lower than that of other workers, there was no training and no paid sick leave. Furthermore, when she complained she was simply told she could leave if she wanted to. Although working conditions were not as bad as those that the fishermen endured, they were bad enough to force her eventually to leave both her job and her home. Assia’s legal status made finding another job difficult. However, eventually she did find a job and she moved to another town in Northern Ireland.

In another example Gediminas, a Lithuanian man, who had been working at a fish exports company in Dungannon for nine months, approached an NGO for assistance to try to resolve problems with his employer. Gediminas complained that he had no written terms and conditions, he received no payslips, got no annual leave and was not paid the minimum wage. He was expected to work long hours, the Working Time Directive was not adhered to, nor was the employee made aware of his right to opt out of additional hours. The employer repeatedly ignored requests to apply for a National Insurance number and to make the required contributions and income tax deductions. There were irregularities in how the wages were issued, with some cheques being made out directly to the employee while others were in the name of his partner, who was not employed by the company. The employer withheld £90 from his wages

for a ‘work permit’ which was not required. In addition Gediminas had concerns about the general health and safety of the establishment, with its lack of equipment and materials to undertake certain tasks. When he approached his employer about these issues, a visit was paid to his home where threats were made and the employer reported the employee to the police.

These two examples illustrate some of the problems encountered by people working in two different fish processing sites. In each case the worker was subjected to poor working conditions with problems over their pay and conditions and was expected to be available for work whenever required. In both cases further problems arose when the employees complained and they were subjected to various forms of threats.

Although the context is somewhat different to that of the men working on the fishing boats, there are similarities in relation to the poor conditions, the level of control exerted by employers and the difficulties that may be encountered when people try to challenge their situation.

 

 

Marine Strategy Framework Directive Consultation

MCNI Response

The MSFD Consultation response from Marine Conservation Northern Ireland

Question 1. The overall opinion is that the State of the Seas document has made a positive contribution to the debate on the state of Northern Ireland territorial waters we are not in a position to discuss the other documents with direct relevance to our seas around the Northern Irish coast. It does however suffer from a lack of consistent evidence based data. We refer in particular to some of the observations made concerning commercial fishing and the impact that sector has had on the indigenous and non-indigenous species which provide the MSY.

Question 2.

At this present time there is are a number of important pieces of information being researched to contribute to the body of work on our marine and its environment. While this is an on-going process and this material will in the future contribute greatly. We are not aware of any current material evidence which may affect the conclusions of the initial UK Assessment.

Question 3.

The characteristics for the GES Descriptor appear to be consistent with the definition of the overarching aims of the Directive and recognise gaps in the existing knowledge base. MCNI have already intimated this fact in Q2. And the relevant foot note below.

In The Celtic Seas the need to be honest with regard  fish communities and the current stock levels is a critical factor to the over harvesting of certain target species that is why the Cod and Haddock stocks have been relentlessly fished to virtually unviable levels by the Commercial Northern Irish fleet and other EU community fleets. There now remains a focus of prolonged targeting on prawn.  The high percentage of viable prawn stocks exist primarily because the predatorial species have been fished to levels incapable of providing their role in the food chain.

The recently renewable sector through wind and wave tidal energy is an addition to the already viable oil and gas industry. MCNI believes that the competing interests sharing the marine environment and its sea bed requires effective management. There is a continuing need to inform the industry and the management of these resources and offer important new advances in energy capture. Research is still being identified and will contribute to the body of research independently provided.

Question 4.

The need for on-going and important research to identify trends is an essential element of ensuring that an effective and strategic approach is adopted to ensure viability of all commercial species rather than knock out each species and target the remaining to exhaustion.

The exploration and research of the sea bed and existing habitats most also remain high in the respective Government Departments agendas. This crucial to ensuring that both fin fish, crustacean and sea mammals continue to sustain safe numbers both for environmental and commercial (where necessary) harvesting.

Question 5.

Yes with a continuing commitment to maintaining up to date, well researched informative and corroborative evidence provides the opportunity to achieve the GES. It is within our communal grasp. Government need to utilise more of their volunteer assets. Those who use the marine for commercial, social and environmental benefit have a duty of care as does the statutory authority. They provide a valuable intelligence which Government should harness and where particular expertise exists, a contractual and financially funded contract would produce a cost effective and additional logistic resource.

Question 6.

The GES Targets are feasible but will require a well-publicised and sensibly invested in enforcement systems. Among these measures appropriate resources are dictated to provide a satisfactory safety net against abuses and infringements. The process of self-regulation has so often in the commercial fishing sector has proved wholly inadequate and repeatedly abused through the black fish catches and the financial benefits of taking the chance against discovery.

The introduction of effective and adaptable policy through legislation which addresses the abuser whether corporate organization in the exploitation of sea bed aggregates to the small lobster potter operating 800 pots for lobster and red crab.

Question 7.

Yes largely this is accurate but an appropriate joined up and out of silo mentality needs to be introduced as a government department culture, something sadly lacking and detrimental to all GES descriptor developments.

Question 8.

The question of cost does have to be given serious consideration but in the light of our custodial responsibility in protecting and managing the marine and its environmental benefits the cost of monitoring needs to be capable of meeting a through and accountable monitoring process.

As identified earlier the use of volunteer organisations trained and recruited through best practice systems and tender contract would provide a further enhancement to the monitoring and information gathering required in the provision and introduction of legislation needed to create and maintain a marine GES.

Question 9.

The gap filling can best be achieved by the production of research based evidence which can be introduced to inform the legislation and applied to update and improve it.

Question 10.

Largely yes they certainly outline the essential issues.

Question 11.

Apart from the specific areas discussed earlier the overview of MNCI appears supportive and positive towards the issues raised to achieve the Descriptor GES.

Question 12.

Given the time scale and the level of work required MCNI would suggest that budgets need to be established by Government Agencies to achieve the GES measure.

Foot note Q2

Commercial catches of species controlled by Common Fisheries Policy are already under stress which has led to limitation of commercial fleet days at sea. This has resulted from their catching potential efficiency increasing year by year at an estimated 4% and as a result has led to non-quota species such as Pollack, coalfish, flounder & elasmobranchs and many other species to suffer decimation at an industrial level.  While fish stocks deplete they face an increasing high technology response from an ever increasing industrial exploitation which has the potential to fish species out within two years. These non-quota fish provide an essential contribution to the Northern Ireland Recreational tourist product both by visiting and local day trip anglers.