May 17, 2022

The Seafarers’ Charity stands ready to support migrant workers in UK Fishing

The Seafarers’ Charity has been shocked at the findings of new research published by the University Of Nottingham Rights Lab which reveals evidence of poor treatment and lack of decent working conditions for some migrant workers on UK fishing vessels.

The research report 'Letting Exploitation off the Hook? Evidencing Labour Abuses in UK Fishing' has been published this week by the University of Nottingham Rights Lab.

The researchers sought out views of fishing crew and heard directly from them about what it is really like to work within the UK fishing industry. Increasing difficulties in recruiting UK fishing crew means that many workers are recruited from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) such as the Philippines and Ghana and can experience very different working conditions and practices to their UK colleagues.

Research Reveals Labour Abuses

The research revealed:

  • 35% of fishing crew in the study reported suffering regular physical violence.
  • However, 65% stated they would never report a grievance out of fear of being blacklisted from future employment opportunities.
  • 19% of those included in the research would qualify as probable cases of forced labour when applying the International Labour Organization’s guidelines in the Forced Labour Convention.
  • 100% of non-EEA crew within the research study experienced immigration related vulnerabilities caused by the use of a ‘transit visa’ which places them at increased risk of labour exploitation. Transit visas are designed for seafarers travelling to reach their departing ship and are unsuitable for workers based within the UK as lacking many basic labour protections in respect of pay and working hours.

'We have been shocked and saddened at the working conditions and treatment of migrant fishing crew revealed in this new research.

The Seafarers’ Charity champions the safety and wellbeing of all who work at sea. I am sure that many people, including owners of fishing businesses and other stakeholders, will share our concerns about the treatment of migrant workers in the UK fishing industry.

We stand ready, as a grant funder, to play our role in supporting improvements in the working conditions and treatment of migrant workers in the UK fishing industry and we call on others involved in UK fishing to act swiftly to stamp out the abhorrent treatment of migrant workers and prevent the risk of such poor practices ever becoming accepted in UK fishing.'

- Catherine Spencer, Chief Executive Officer of The Seafarers’ Charity

'The research was undertaken on UK flagged vessels and involved surveys and interviews with 124 crew who were asked about their recruitment into the work, their working conditions, and ability to access their labour rights over the previous 12 months. The research has revealed evidence of illegal practices as well as poor working conditions that have seemingly been normalised.'

Dr Jess Sparks at University Of Nottingham Rights Lab

'We will continue to support those working across the fishing sector, making sure they are treated fairly and taking action when we know they are not. The MCA continues to work with vessel owners on the UK Flag to make sure they meet the required international standards of ILO188 and, cooperate closely with other government agencies who enforce other aspects of living and working conditions for seafarers.'

Julie Carlton, Head of Seafarer Safety and Health at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

'The International Transport Workers’ Federation fights passionately to improve conditions for fishers and helping our members secure rights, equality and justice. The evidence in this research has increased our concerns about the lack of reporting by victims of exploitation and issues with the transit visa system which is being used to bring migrant workers into the UK but actually acts to put them at risk of labour exploitation and abuse.'

Chris Williams at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), an international trade union representing 20 million men and women across the world working in transport and maritime sectors

How To Achieve Decent Working Conditions and Prevent Labour Abuse

The International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention No. 188 (ILO C188) is designed to protect the safety and welfare of all engaged in fishing – whether they be owners, share fishers or contracted crew.

The Seafarers’ Charity is calling for Government, the fishing industry and trade unions to work together to ensure that this existing legislation is enforced and upheld for everyone working within the UK fishing industry to ensure decent working conditions now, and, for future generations.

The Seafarers’ Charity, a grant funder of maritime welfare, is concerned about the safety and welfare of all who work at sea, and the reported treatment of migrant workers in UK fishing. The Charity will shortly publish a full response to the University of Nottingham Rights Lab research report which will contain proposed solutions and recommendations aimed at achieving Fairness in Fishing.

Main image supplied by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.