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ITF calls for workers' rights for migrant fishers

news Press Release 11 Jan 2024

In a bid to tackle the exploitation of migrant fishing workers in UK waters, a two-year pilot programme has been launched that, if successful, will see migrant fishers working in UK waters be subject to the rights and protections of UK employment laws.    

The programme has been launched by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) alongside Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), a non-profit group, and the Fair Food Programme.

Migrant fishers now make up the majority of deckhands in the UK fleet – but have been shown to suffer abuse and labour exploitation. ITF has been campaigning and lobbying to ensure they are afforded the same rights, protections and pay as their UK and EU counterparts.

The two-tier system in UK fishing, where some crew are self-employed ‘share fishers’ and migrants are direct employees of UK companies working on UK flagged fishing vessels undermines the principle of equal pay for equal work. The recent Home Office clarification (April 2023) responding to the ITF has now mandated for skilled worker visas for migrant crew working in UK waters, which is a positive step – but has moved from a two-tier system to a three-tier system – share fishers, skilled workers and migrant crew working outside UK territorial waters on seafarers transit visas.

To combat this inequality, and a lack of labour market enforcement in UK fishing, ITF is part of this ‘worker driven’ pilot project in two ports in North East Scotland. The opportunity for workers to shape a code of conduct, be educated about (and able to stand up for) their rights at work, have access to grievance mechanisms and remedy as well as improvements to pay and working conditions are essential to combat this inequality which has been enabled and entrenched by the Government’s hostile environment.

Chris Williams, ITF fisheries expert said: “For any solution to be successful in the seafood sector that relates to working life, it is critical that it bring in the perspective and experience of workers. The ability for workers to engage in collective bargaining in the fishing sector is the best way to achieve decent work. TUC research globally across sectors has shown that trade union jobs are safer and better paid, the pensions are better, workers have more control over working hours and the OSH has better outcomes for workers. We know this first hand from the 140,000 members of our ITF-affiliated fishers’ unions.”

Through working with FLEX, the Fair Food Program, Dr Jess Sparks and the UK crewing agency, and some members vessels of the SWFPA and the UK supply chain represented by the SEA Alliance, ITF can show how worker involvement in shaping decent work in fishing is a win-win situation for fishers, buyers, consumers and the industry alike. This pilot project has been over a year in the making, with funding to the fair food program and FLEX made available from Humanity United. ITF is ready to support the pilot project as the organisation representing migrant workers on UK flagged vessels to ensure they can shape their own future at work.