Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Questions (234)

Jim O'Callaghan


234. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he has taken on foot of correspondence from four special rapporteurs of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights raising allegations of people trafficking and exploitation of migrant fishermen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46212/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The correspondence referred to by the Deputy was received by my Department in February 2019 and a response to same issued from my Department on 29 March 2019. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has advised that the response was received by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 12 April 2019. A full copy of the response to this correspondence is available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights -   https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=34620.

The Atypical Scheme for non-EEA Crew in the Irish Fishing Fleet was established as a cross Departmental response to address the matter of non-EEA workers on certain categories of vessels in the Irish fishing fleet.  A number of Departments are involved in the scheme and it is monitored by an Oversight Committee, chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine with members from relevant Departments and State Agencies, including my own Department.

The application process includes the drawing up of a contract which includes, for example, payment of wages in line with the minimum wage that the medical needs of the employee must be provided for by the employer and when an employment is terminated the employer must repatriate the employee to their home country.

This contract, prepared by a solicitor practising in the State on behalf of the employer, is submitted in the first instance to the Central Depository administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and thereafter an application is made to Immigration Service Delivery in my Department for an immigration permission. I am advised that each contract is certified by a solicitor as follows:

that the terms of the scheme are met

that the conditions of employment are in accordance with the relevant legislation and that annual wages are not less than the National Minimum Wage – currently €9.80 per hour and

that there is a statement from the vessel owner that they will enroll the crew member in a Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) Safety Training Scheme prior to commencement of employment.

It should be noted that the Scheme requires that the crew member be provided a copy of their contract of employment in both English and in their native language.

The enforcement of appropriate employment law is not a matter for my Department. Primary responsibility for this matter is shared between the Workplace Relations Commission (enforcement) and the Department of Employment, Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP – Policy).

Any abuses or otherwise of the employment conditions of any non-EEA National in the Irish fishing industry is a matter for the Workplace Relations Commission, the Marine Survey Office, the Gardaí and other appropriate authorities of the State.

The vessels encompassed by the scheme are subject to regular inspection by a number of State Agencies. The WRC in particular has inspected  all but two of the 171 vessels within the scope of the scheme a number of times, and maintains a risk-based inspection and compliance regime which is informed by intelligence, including information from concerned NGOs. There have been four multi-agency specifically targeted operations within the sea fishing industry between October 2016 and present, and robust engagement will continue.

Where an individual believes themselves to be a victim of human trafficking or where another person believes that this situation applies, they should contact An Garda Síochána (AGS), or an NGO or State authority (e.g. WRC) who will be able to refer their case to AGS. AGS will be in a position to take the victim to a place of safety and arrange for immediate accommodation, food and medical needs.

AGS will refer the person’s case to the competent authority for the identification of victims, the Human Trafficking investigation and Coordination Unit (HTICU) of AGS.

Where an individual is identified as a suspected victim of human trafficking by HTICU they will be eligible to receive State supports and services, including immigration permission, through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) to assist their recovery.

I am informed by my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport that Ireland supports the International Labour Organisation Work in Fishing Convention 2007 (No. 188), which seeks to ensure decent conditions of work in the commercial fishing sector.  I am further informed that a provision is to be included in the Merchant Shipping (International Conventions) Bill currently being prepared by the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport which will enable Ireland to ratify and implement the ILO Work in Fishing Convention.  I understand that secondary legislation is also required in order to facilitate compliance with obligations under the Convention. Furthermore, I also understand that work is at an advanced stage in the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport on the transposition of EU Directive 2017/159 which will implement the standards of the Convention. The Directive aims to enhance the working and living conditions for fishers working on vessels registered in an EU member state.