Taskforce to probe claims of exploitation in fishing industry
Senior police, justice and government figures are to form a special taskforce to investigate allegations of human trafficking and worker exploitation in Ireland's fishing industry.
Amid claims of widespread abuse of African and Asian workers on whitefish and prawn trawlers, the Irish Government vowed to develop a "co-ordinated and effective" response to the scandal.
Simon Coveney, Minsiter for Agriculture, Food and Marine, will chair the first meeting on Thursday.
The controversy was discussed at a cabinet meeting today after The Guardian revealed a year long investigation had uncovered migrant workers suffering sleep deprivation, inhuman hours and low pay on Irish fishing vessels.
It is alleged that undocumented Ghanaian, Filipino, Egyptian and Indian fishermen were at times confined to vessels by skippers while in port for fear authorities would see them, and being paid less than half the minimum wage.
The investigation claimed some workers were brought to Ireland through London Heathrow and Belfast airports, before they travelled by road to ports in the Irish Republic.
It is thought a loophole is being abused which allows merchant ship workers from outside the EU to move through the UK for 48 hours if they are going to work on boats on international routes.
Mr Coveney said he was very concerned about the allegations, particularly safety issues on trawlers.
He said a Garda operation was already investigating the issue but the new taskforce has escalated the controversy.
"Government has decided to immediately establish an inter-departmental taskforce to examine the wide range of issues identified in yesterday's Guardian newspaper report regarding the treatment of workers on board Irish fishing trawlers," Mr Coveney's office said after the cabinet meeting.
"The first meeting will be held this Thursday to formulate a co-ordinated and effective cross Government approach to the matter."
Representatives from the Attorney General's office, the Garda and three other Government departments - Justice, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Transport, Tourism and Sport - will attend.
Ken Fleming, of the International Transport Workers Federation, had raised concerns over undocumented workers in the industry several years ago.
He said a period of reflection was needed for workers "to decide how best to regularise their status and, if required, to provide evidence in the event of the prosecutions of these gross violations of human and employment rights".
Gerry McCormack, of the Siptu trade union, said migrant workers on fishing boats need employment protection laws, proper training and rigorous inspection.
"We are also calling on the Government to ensure that the innocent workers caught up in this abuse are treated fairly by the Irish State and that their proper legal entitlements are provided as quickly as possible," he said.
In April 2013, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said he was aware of claims of fishermen working without permits or visas.
He warned at the time about migrants in the country illegally who may be enduring exploitative working conditions for fear of possible deportation.
The Migrants Rights Centre Ireland said it had reports of a number of cases of human trafficking and undocumented workers in the fishing industry.