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Workplace Relations Commission Rules Egyptian Fishing Crewman Due over €20,000 in Compensation for Breaches of Work Time & Wages Legislation

23rd November 2021
A Workplace Relations Commission Inspector found that fishing is an industry that is subject to some very challenging weather conditions and the safety of fishermen is of paramount importance
A Workplace Relations Commission Inspector found that fishing is an industry that is subject to some very challenging weather conditions and the safety of fishermen is of paramount importance

The Workplace Relations Commission has directed that over 20,000 euro in compensation be paid to an Egyptian fisherman employed on an Irish vessel for breaches of his working time and payment of wages legislation.

Egyptian national Ali Rezk (63) was awarded the sum for breaches on the part of his employer, fishing vessel owner and retailer Seán Doran.

Rezk was employed under the atypical work permit scheme, and worked as a fisherman from December 22nd, 2016 to August 15th, 2019.

Legal representatives for Rezk claimed that he was not paid in accordance with the National Minimum Wage Act, he was not paid for hours that he worked, he was not compensated for public holidays and he did not receive the correct holidays.

In his response to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Seán Doran stated that the boat did not operate to full throttle, and the hours were based on work and call outs.

He said the fish catch was very limited, so the hours worked were much less than the hours that are claimed, and “boredom” was factor on this boat due to the small amount of work.

He said there was plenty of rest available as it was a small boat, and Rezk was facilitated with his religious practices and food.

He said Rezk “stopped working for prayers”, he was “a sports fan and he was given time to watch the football matches” and this “was not a profitable business and the prawn vessel "washed its face".

Doran stated that while Rezk was on shore they couldn’t put him in the shop because of his poor English.

He said Rezk was given three to six hours work per day in the factory and was paid for eight hours, was always welcome in the restaurant and not charged for food except for cigarettes and the lotto.

Doran said that the company had up to ten trawlers and never had any labour issues.

Doran said that no records were kept for the vessel, an issue which the WRC inspector drew attention to in his ruling.

Noting the “conflict of evidence” in the case, the WRC inspector said there was a duty to maintain records of hours of work under S.I. No. 709/2003 – European Communities (Workers on Board Sea-Going Fishing Vessels) (Organisation of Working Time) Regulations 2003.

“Based on the claim as presented by the complainant, I find, on the balance of probabilities, that the complainant worked an average of 17 hours a day while at sea and eight hours day while on shore,” the WRC inspector said and this exceeded 72 hours per week as is provided by SI 709/2003.

“I find that this is an industry that is subject to some very challenging weather conditions and the safety of fishermen is of paramount importance,” the WRC inspector said.

He said that it is “essential that fishermen are protected against working excessive hours which may cause them to make errors in their work which could negatively impact on their safety and that of their colleagues”.

He found Rezk was due over €5,364 in addition to a smaller amount for public holidays for unpaid hours, and he should be paid another €15,000 compensation by his employer for breaches of his rights “which is to serve as an effective, dissuasive and proportionate deterrent”.

Rezk had also claimed he was not paid in accordance with national minimum wage legislation, but the WRC said the claim was not well-founded as he did not seek a written statement of his hourly pay.

The International Transport Federation (ITF) said it had a mixed reaction to the WRC decision, due to restrictions in the current legislation.

ITF fisheries campaign lead Michael O’Brien said that under the current Workplace Relations Act 2015, the “cognisable period” that the WRC can retrieve unpaid wages for is normally only the six months prior to a complaint being submitted, or twelve months in extenuating circumstances.

In this instance, the WRC adjudicator was limited to compensating Rezk just over €5,500 for just the final six and a half months of the total 33 months that the fisher was employed aboard the vessel, O’Brien noted.

“If we are to end the routine exploitation of fishers the law needs to provide for 100% retrieval of unpaid wages and entitlements,” O’Brien said.

Published in Fishing
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Irish Fishing industry 

The Irish Commercial Fishing Industry employs around 11,000 people in fishing, processing and ancillary services such as sales and marketing. The industry is worth about €1.22 billion annually to the Irish economy. Irish fisheries products are exported all over the world as far as Africa, Japan and China.

FAQs

Over 16,000 people are employed directly or indirectly around the coast, working on over 2,000 registered fishing vessels, in over 160 seafood processing businesses and in 278 aquaculture production units, according to the State's sea fisheries development body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

All activities that are concerned with growing, catching, processing or transporting fish are part of the commercial fishing industry, the development of which is overseen by BIM. Recreational fishing, as in angling at sea or inland, is the responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The Irish fishing industry is valued at 1.22 billion euro in gross domestic product (GDP), according to 2019 figures issued by BIM. Only 179 of Ireland's 2,000 vessels are over 18 metres in length. Where does Irish commercially caught fish come from? Irish fish and shellfish is caught or cultivated within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Irish fishing grounds are part of the common EU "blue" pond. Commercial fishing is regulated under the terms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983 and with ten-yearly reviews.

The total value of seafood landed into Irish ports was 424 million euro in 2019, according to BIM. High value landings identified in 2019 were haddock, hake, monkfish and megrim. Irish vessels also land into foreign ports, while non-Irish vessels land into Irish ports, principally Castletownbere, Co Cork, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.

There are a number of different methods for catching fish, with technological advances meaning skippers have detailed real time information at their disposal. Fisheries are classified as inshore, midwater, pelagic or deep water. Inshore targets species close to shore and in depths of up to 200 metres, and may include trawling and gillnetting and long-lining. Trawling is regarded as "active", while "passive" or less environmentally harmful fishing methods include use of gill nets, long lines, traps and pots. Pelagic fisheries focus on species which swim close to the surface and up to depths of 200 metres, including migratory mackerel, and tuna, and methods for catching include pair trawling, purse seining, trolling and longlining. Midwater fisheries target species at depths of around 200 metres, using trawling, longlining and jigging. Deepwater fisheries mainly use trawling for species which are found at depths of over 600 metres.

There are several segments for different catching methods in the registered Irish fleet – the largest segment being polyvalent or multi-purpose vessels using several types of gear which may be active and passive. The polyvalent segment ranges from small inshore vessels engaged in netting and potting to medium and larger vessels targeting whitefish, pelagic (herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) species and bivalve molluscs. The refrigerated seawater (RSW) pelagic segment is engaged mainly in fishing for herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting only. The beam trawling segment focuses on flatfish such as sole and plaice. The aquaculture segment is exclusively for managing, developing and servicing fish farming areas and can collect spat from wild mussel stocks.

The top 20 species landed by value in 2019 were mackerel (78 million euro); Dublin Bay prawn (59 million euro); horse mackerel (17 million euro); monkfish (17 million euro); brown crab (16 million euro); hake (11 million euro); blue whiting (10 million euro); megrim (10 million euro); haddock (9 million euro); tuna (7 million euro); scallop (6 million euro); whelk (5 million euro); whiting (4 million euro); sprat (3 million euro); herring (3 million euro); lobster (2 million euro); turbot (2 million euro); cod (2 million euro); boarfish (2 million euro).

Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory, rich in marine biodiversity. A marine biodiversity scheme under Ireland's operational programme, which is co-funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Government, aims to reduce the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on the marine environment, including avoidance and reduction of unwanted catch.

EU fisheries ministers hold an annual pre-Christmas council in Brussels to decide on total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is based on advice from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In Ireland's case, the State's Marine Institute publishes an annual "stock book" which provides the most up to date stock status and scientific advice on over 60 fish stocks exploited by the Irish fleet. Total allowable catches are supplemented by various technical measures to control effort, such as the size of net mesh for various species.

The west Cork harbour of Castletownbere is Ireland's biggest whitefish port. Killybegs, Co Donegal is the most important port for pelagic (herring, mackerel, blue whiting) landings. Fish are also landed into Dingle, Co Kerry, Rossaveal, Co Galway, Howth, Co Dublin and Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Union Hall, Co Cork, Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The busiest Northern Irish ports are Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.

Yes, EU quotas are allocated to other fleets within the Irish EEZ, and Ireland has long been a transhipment point for fish caught by the Spanish whitefish fleet in particular. Dingle, Co Kerry has seen an increase in foreign landings, as has Castletownbere. The west Cork port recorded foreign landings of 36 million euro or 48 per cent in 2019, and has long been nicknamed the "peseta" port, due to the presence of Spanish-owned transhipment plant, Eiranova, on Dinish island.

Most fish and shellfish caught or cultivated in Irish waters is for the export market, and this was hit hard from the early stages of this year's Covid-19 pandemic. The EU, Asia and Britain are the main export markets, while the middle Eastern market is also developing and the African market has seen a fall in value and volume, according to figures for 2019 issued by BIM.

Fish was once a penitential food, eaten for religious reasons every Friday. BIM has worked hard over several decades to develop its appeal. Ireland is not like Spain – our land is too good to transform us into a nation of fish eaters, but the obvious health benefits are seeing a growth in demand. Seafood retail sales rose by one per cent in 2019 to 300 million euro. Salmon and cod remain the most popular species, while BIM reports an increase in sales of haddock, trout and the pangasius or freshwater catfish which is cultivated primarily in Vietnam and Cambodia and imported by supermarkets here.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983, pooled marine resources – with Ireland having some of the richest grounds and one of the largest sea areas at the time, but only receiving four per cent of allocated catch by a quota system. A system known as the "Hague Preferences" did recognise the need to safeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related activities. The State's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, works with the Naval Service on administering the EU CFP. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Transport regulate licensing and training requirements, while the Marine Survey Office is responsible for the implementation of all national and international legislation in relation to safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

Yes, a range of certificates of competency are required for skippers and crew. Training is the remit of BIM, which runs two national fisheries colleges at Greencastle, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork. There have been calls for the colleges to be incorporated into the third-level structure of education, with qualifications recognised as such.

Safety is always an issue, in spite of technological improvements, as fishing is a hazardous occupation and climate change is having its impact on the severity of storms at sea. Fishing skippers and crews are required to hold a number of certificates of competency, including safety and navigation, and wearing of personal flotation devices is a legal requirement. Accidents come under the remit of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority. The MCIB does not find fault or blame, but will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport to avoid a recurrence of incidents.

Fish are part of a marine ecosystem and an integral part of the marine food web. Changing climate is having a negative impact on the health of the oceans, and there have been more frequent reports of warmer water species being caught further and further north in Irish waters.

Brexit, Covid 19, EU policies and safety – Britain is a key market for Irish seafood, and 38 per cent of the Irish catch is taken from the waters around its coast. Ireland's top two species – mackerel and prawns - are 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, dependent on British waters. Also, there are serious fears within the Irish industry about the impact of EU vessels, should they be expelled from British waters, opting to focus even more efforts on Ireland's rich marine resource. Covid-19 has forced closure of international seafood markets, with high value fish sold to restaurants taking a large hit. A temporary tie-up support scheme for whitefish vessels introduced for the summer of 2020 was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail".

Sources: Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Marine Institute, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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