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‘Crew have fewer rights than fish’: Ireland’s failure to ratify C188 lets Spanish trawler off the hook as ITF exposes labour abuses

news Press Release 10 Feb 2023

The recent arrest and detention by the Irish Naval Service of a Spanish owned, German flagged fishing vessel, and subsequent prosecution of its skipper over 12 alleged fisheries violations, shows that the law in Ireland affords greater protection to fish than to migrant fishers on working onboard foreign flagged vessels operating in Irish waters.

Michael O’Brien, Fisheries Campaign Lead for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), said the arrest of the Pesorsa Dos (IMO 7360930) has rightfully garnered publicity in both Ireland and Spain but the rights and welfare of the Indonesian crew has received negligible attention. 

“This episode shows that while the State is responsive to protecting fish stocks and their wellbeing, there is not the same level of concern shown towards the wellbeing of fishers onboard foreign flagged vessels operating in Irish waters,” said O’Brien. 

“If there was, Ireland would have long ago ratified the 2007 International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention C188 to ensure Ireland’s officials have the powers needed to stop exploitative operators from slipping through the regulatory net when it comes to labour abuses, as is the case now.” 

ITF Fisheries Campaign Lead for Ireland Michael O’Brien | (Credit: ITF)

No wages since December, double contract keeping  

“A number of the Indonesian crew on the Pesorsa Dos have made contact with me in the course of the last week,” said O’Brien. “They report that they have not been paid since December.” In the last week they have discovered that their employer has been keeping two sets of employment contracts for each of the crew. The campaigner explains:

“One version of the contract appears to be for the consumption of German authorities, where the vessel is flagged, promising superior conditions which comply with German law. However, these contracts differ to the contracts that have been issued to the fishers themselves. Already two examples of these ‘double contracts’ have been sent to me.” 

“In one double contact, the ‘official’ version of the contract submitted to the German authorities claims that a fisher is paid €2,000 per month, but the actual contract given to him has a minimum net monthly salary of just €1,000.

“One member of the crew was voluntarily repatriated to Indonesia this morning. However, he has not been paid a cent since joining the crew in late December. I raised the matter directly with the Spanish owners’ representatives in Ireland, Conway Solicitors. As yet, we have received no response,” said O’Brien.

‘Embarrassing’ reliance on other governments leaves fishers exposed: Why Ireland must urgently ratify C188 

O’Brien said Ireland’s failure to ratify Work in Fishing Convention (ILO C188) leaves the authorities with little power to act on the complaints from fishers working onboard foreign flagged vessels.

“We are left having to work through our ITF colleagues in Spain which has ratified ILO C188, and Germany, to request action from authorities there.”   

O’Brien said Irish Naval Service two days ago arrested another Spanish owned, German flagged vessel with an Indonesian crew – the Ortegal Tres. It is the third detention of the particular vessel in just over a year. During the previous detentions, the ITF likewise had to call upon the help of German colleagues to follow up on pay and contract problems that came to light in Ireland.

“It is embarrassing that Ireland is in effect relying on other governments to protect fishers whose rights have been violated in Irish territorial waters. This situation will be repeated time and again until Ireland meets its international obligations. Step one is ratifying C188 and enforcing it properly, said O’Brien.


  • Cover image captures Irish enforcement officials boarding the Pesorsa Dos during  a previous arrest operation (Credit: Irish Naval Service, 2020)

About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice for nearly 20 million working women and men in the transport industry across the world. FORSA, SIPTU and Unite the Union, are the unions affiliated to the ITF in the Republic of Ireland. 

Media contact: Michael O’Brien | o’ | +35 3872 400331