The Seafarers’ Charity is committed to supporting Fairness in Fishing and calls on all who care about the UK fishing industry to support decent working conditions, fair pay, and respect for the human rights of all who work in UK fishing.

In 2021 The Seafarers’ Charity partnered with the University of Nottingham's Rights Lab to carry out a research survey aimed at better understanding the reality of working conditions for fishing crew across the UK. The survey was open to all crew working in the UK fishing fleet, including the local workforce as well as those from overseas, share fishers and contracted employees.

The intention was to gather additional information on working life for crew beyond the perspective of skippers and vessel owners whose views are regularly captured by Seafish in their Annual Economic Fleet Survey.

Evidence of Labour Abuse in UK Fishing

The most significant findings from the research survey were in respect of the work experience of migrant workers in UK fishing

Difficulties in recruiting local crew has led to the recruitment of migrant crew from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA). Migrant workers in UK fishing are predominantly from countries such as the Philippines and Ghana. There are also crew from Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka.

The findings from the University of Nottingham Rights Lab research survey have been published in a research report ‘Letting Exploitation of the Hook? Evidencing Labour Abuses in UK Fishing’, compiled from 108 surveys and 16 interviews from fishing crew in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The research identified problems which range from the systematic labour exploitation of migrant workers to working conditions that are not in line with the requirements of the International Labour Organization Work in Fishing Convention No.188 (ILO C188). It also revealed shocking incidences of abhorrent, and illegal treatment, of migrant workers in the UK fishing industry.

Key research findings include:

  • 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, while an additional 48% reported potential cases of forced and compulsory labour.
  • 60% of surveyed crew reported working a minimum of 16 hours per shift and 1/3 reported working more than 20 hours per shift. 30% reported that they never received 10 hours of rest. Because they are required to stay on board the vessel while in port, another 25% reported that they never receive 77 hours of rest in a 7-day period because they are required to clean and repair the vessel, take the gear off the vessel, or mend nets on their days “off” in port.
  • Non-EEA migrant fishers reported making as little as £400 per month and up to £1,500 per month with only a select few stating they receive catch-based cash bonuses.

Multiple narratives of extreme violence also emerged, with one fisher describing being beaten while the skipper’s son yelled racial slurs and two fishers reported graphic and extreme sexually violent acts.

The personal testimonies, evidence and reports shared by migrant workers and documented in the research are concerning to everyone who cares about the UK fishing industry. No worker should expect to endure mistreatment, abuse, and degradation of their labour rights. Even one incident of physical abuse is one incident too many.

Transit Visas

The International Transport Workers' Federation have published a technical briefing which explains how transit visas for seafarers create the conditions that enable labour abuse. The briefing is titled ‘One way ticket to labour exploitation: How transit visa loopholes are being used to employ migrant fishers on UK fishing vessels’.

Download 'Letting Exploitation of the Hook? Evidencing Labour Abuses in UK Fishing'

The findings from the University of Nottingham Rights Lab research survey have been published in a report.

Download the report

Next Steps in Achieving Fairness in Fishing

In June 2022 The Seafarers’ Charity and others will publish a response to the research report which will set out some recommendations and solutions aimed at tackling and preventing labour abuse in UK fishing.