A WEST Cork fisheries spokesman has rubbished reports that there is widespread exploitation of immigrants in the fishing industry.
The manager of Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-op, John Nolan, has accused the media of making ‘wild, sensational and unsubstantiated statements’ about the industry this week.
‘I am not saying there is no abuse,’ Mr Nolan told The Southern Star, ‘but it certainly isn’t widespread, and sensational headlines that claims that there are up to 8,000 people being exploited hurt our industry.
‘Ours is a good industry: 95% of it is made up of very good employers, but the media is generalising things with these wild statements.’
Mr Nolan said employers, like Castletownbere Fishermen’s Co-operative, would not tolerate any abuse. ‘I wouldn’t want anyone mistreated,’ he said, ‘and we should be working towards a zero tolerance figure.’
He also welcomed the Government’s decision to immediately establish an inter-departmental taskforce to examine the wide range of issues identified in a Guardian newspaper report regarding the treatment of workers on board Irish fishing trawlers.
Marine Minister Simon Coveney has expressed his concern about the allegations and said these complex issues would be addressed by the taskforce – an agency that will include representatives from the Departments of Justice, Jobs and Enterprise, Transport and Tourism, Agriculture and Marine, as well as the Attorney General’s office, relevant agencies and An Garda Siochana.
Mr Nolan said one media outlet after another had repeated unsubstantiated claims that there are up to 8,000 people being exploited within the fishing industry, but he estimated that there are only 3,000 people employed on trawlers in Ireland and that 70% of them are Irish nationals, with the remaining 30% comprising non-Irish, such as other EU nationals, Eastern Europeans, Egyptian and Asian fishermen.
‘In most boats these fishermen are self-employed and work a share of the catch. Fishing is hard work. Everyone knows that they have to work very hard for their money and they are entitled to every bob that they can make.’
The co-op manager also pointed out that there is a Spanish community living in Castletownbere. He said: ‘They came here to work in the fishing industry and to make a better life for themselves in Ireland.’
Mr Nolan said the Irish fishing industry welcomes non-national workers but there is ‘a need to simplify things in the industry. We have a shortage of labour and the industry needs to be able to bring people in legitimately – to make sure they have the required training and safety certificates and that they are paid the same as anyone else on the boat.
‘There are undocumented within the industry – as there are Irish undocumented in the US – but that does not mean that assumptions can be made that they are being mistreated. I welcome Simon Coveney’s comments that the new task force would look at ways of assisting these workers get the permits they require.’
Reports of emigrants working without permits are not new. Last year The Southern Star reported that a 20-year old Egyptian fisherman faced deportation after he was convicted at Skibbereen District Court of working outside the terms of the Irish Immigration Act.