15:17, December 12 102 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-12 15:17:04
UK police rescue nine suspected victims of slavery from British trawlers

Nine African and Asian crew members working on a pair of British scallop trawlers were taken to a place of safety by police last week as suspected victims of modern slavery.

The men, who were reported to be from Ghana, India and Sri Lanka, were identified when one of the trawlers came in to Portsmouth harbour last Thursday because a crew member had suffered a head injury, the Guardian has learned.

Five non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals were said to have been found on the vessel and referred by police to the National Crime Agency’s mechanism for investigating human trafficking. Four other non-EEA nationals were later reportedly identified on a second trawler at another port in south-west England and were also taken to safety.

The men are alleged to have worked unlimited hours at sea with very little rest for £850-950 a month. The first vessel was detained in Portsmouth and a 30-year-old man from Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, and a 33-year-old man from Southport in Merseyside, were arrested and questioned by Hampshire police.

The news of arrests in the British fishing sector comes as a new report details extensive labour exploitation in the Irish trawler fleet.

Migrant workers on Irish-owned vessels are experiencing exploitation, discrimination, physical abuse and “severe” underpayment, according to a report published on Monday by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) in Dublin.

Its research is based on in-depth interviews with 30 fishermen from Egypt and the Philippines and reveals that the majority of the men worked more than 100 hours a week for an average pay of just under €3 an hour.

The workers, who fished for prawns, monkfish and plaice, were interviewed by the MRCI over a 12-month period. A quarter said they had suffered “verbal or physical abuse”, such as shouting and pushing by their employer, and one in five said they had experienced discrimination. Others reported racist insults, intimidation and harassment.

Edel McGinley, the director of MRCI, said: “Fishing is part of the Irish DNA but we continue to see a model of business that is based on exploitation of workers. Fishing is a tough job in a complex industry, and it’s even more difficult and dangerous for migrant fishers enduring chronic underpayment and shockingly long hours.”

Following a Guardian investigation in 2015, an emergency taskforce was set up by the Irish government to deal with the illegal use of African and Asian migrants by boat owners in the Irish fleet. Up to 500 specially created work permits for fishermen from outside the EEA were created, although senior figures in the industry had predicted that, given the labour shortage in the sector, at least 1,000 permits would be required. These permits tie individual workers to specific boats.

Speaking to the Guardian on Monday, McGinley called on the Irish government to scrap the scheme. “We warned that this wasn’t the best scheme to introduce. We’re calling for a new scheme that gives power back to the workers.” The report also recommends that to ensure that fishermen feel safe disclosing abuse and exploitation, Irish labour inspectors should not be accompanied by the Irish police when they board fishing vessels.

Only half of the migrant fishermen interviewed by the MRCI had mandatory Irish safety training, and 40% of them said they “did not feel safe at work”.

Senior industry figures met with the MRCI last week to discuss the work permit scheme. “It’s accepted by us that the permit scheme was rushed through and needs to be reviewed,” said Francis O’Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, who added that he does not have any direct knowledge of the abuse of workers.