Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Questions (261, 262, 263, 264)

Declan Breathnach


261. Deputy Declan Breathnach asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to increase the monitoring of the atypical workers scheme as it relates to the fishing industry to ensure that the terms of a settlement agreement reached after High Court proceedings in early 2019 will be adhered to; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a high volume of migrant workers in the fishing industry working more than 60 hours per week resulting in an hourly rate of pay as low as €2.82 per hour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51508/19]

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Declan Breathnach


262. Deputy Declan Breathnach asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of violations of elements of the atypical workers scheme in the fishing industry that his attention has been drawn to over the past three years and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51509/19]

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Declan Breathnach


263. Deputy Declan Breathnach asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when draft regulations in respect of a settlement agreement reached after High Court proceedings regarding the transposition of EU Council Directive 2017/159 as it relates to the fishing industry to give effect to the agreement reached will be signed by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51510/19]

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Declan Breathnach


264. Deputy Declan Breathnach asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the atypical workers scheme in respect of the fishing industry as framed does not provide for effectively preventing and combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of forced labour and labour exploitation in the fishing industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51518/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 to 264, inclusive, together.

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.

To date, 351 individuals have applied for, and been granted permission under this Scheme. There are 224 valid permission under the scheme at present. Under the terms of the Scheme, all crew from non-EEA countries must be employed directly and exclusively by a sea fishing vessel license holder under a written contract of employment for a duration of 12 months. All license holders are under a contractual and statutory duty to comply with EU and national law applicable to employees working under the Scheme.

My Department has been advised that each contract is certified by a solicitor as follows:

1. that the terms of the scheme are met

2. 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

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

The enforcement of appropriate employment law, including minimum wage requirements, is not a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality. Enforcement of the employment conditions of any non-EEA National in the Irish fishing industry is a matter for the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), and the Marine Survey Office or (in the case of alleged criminal activity), 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 almost all vessels within the scope of the scheme and maintains a risk-based inspection and compliance regime which is informed by intelligence, including information from concerned NGOs.

From April 2016 to the end of June 2019, 390 port inspections of the 186 whitefish vessels that have participated in this scheme since 2016 were undertaken by WRC inspectors. Port inspections refer to the initial contact that is made with the vessel as it arrives in the harbour. The inspections entail checks for visas and informal interviews with the crew about the working conditions. These inspections are followed up with a call to the HQ of the vessel for more formal checks on records and relevant documents, follow up interviews and so on.

There are currently some 171 vessels which come within the scope of the Atypical Working Scheme and the WRC inspection services have inspected 169 (over 99% of all vessels). Two of the vessels registered under this Scheme have not been detected in Irish ports in recent times.

Since the Atypical Working Scheme was launched late in 2015, six targeted enforcement operations have taken place:

1. Operation Egg Shell, which was led by and coordinated by An Garda Síochána and involved several enforcement agencies, took place on 5th and 7th October 2016 and focussed on labour exploitation and human trafficking in the fishing industry.

2. Operation Trident, which took place from 29th to 31st March 2017.

3. Operation Neptune, which took place in March 2018

4.Operation Poseidon, which took place in June 2018, involved unannounced inspections at several fishing ports by WRC inspectors.

5.Operation Nemo which involved unannounced inspections operation at 5 of the 6 fishery harbour centres during the period 21st to 23rd February 2019; and

6. Operation Preteus, which took place from 26 June to 29 June. WRC inspectors boarded 28 whitefish vessels at seven landing places across the country to inspect employment records, carry out compliance checks and interview employees.

Some 260 contraventions were detected by WRC Inspectors from 2016 to end June 2019:

1. 26% of contraventions relate to records

2. 19% of contraventions relate to leave, public holiday and associated entitlements

3. 16% of contraventions relate to illegal workers

4. 13% of contraventions are failures to issue payslips

5. in 17% of cases, owners are not cooperating and/or complying with an Inspector's requirement

6. 4% of contraventions related to pay rates.

By the end of 2019 it is expected that two detailed investigations of all Atypical Working Scheme vessels will have been conducted. So far, the WRC has proceeded to prosecutions in 12 cases. 7 of these are currently before the courts and, in 5 cases, the WRC has been successful in securing convictions. It is noteworthy, that the inspection resources allocated by the Workplace Relations Commission to the Atypical Working Scheme is significant compared to other sectors of employment. There are over 2.2 million persons employed in Ireland. There are slightly in excess of 200 crew members currently employed under the Atypical Working Scheme.

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 through the National Referral Mechanism for Victims of Human Trafficking (NRM) to assist their recovery. Where such persons do require a permission to remain in the State and do not already have one, a permission to remain will be granted under the Administrative Immigration Arrangements (AIAs) on foot of a formal identification by senior officers of HTICU.

As a result of the multi-agency engagement outlined above, An Garda Síochána have identified 16 migrant fishermen who had been employed under the Terms of the Atypical Working Scheme as possible victims of human trafficking and caused them to be admitted to the NRM. Admission to the NRM is based on a low threshold of possibility that trafficking may have occurred. While this is a matter of concern and is being treated with the utmost seriousness, these cases represent a small percentage of the overall number of fishers availing of the AWS. Assistance and services under the NRM have been afforded to all of these victims, including accommodation, medical and legal assistance. Investigations are continuing.

Responsibility for transposition of EU Directive 2017/159, which implements the standards of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention, is not a matter for my Department. This work falls within the remit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I am informed that work is at an advanced stage on the transposition of same.