SWFPA CEO Mike Park has called on the UK government to bring about changes to fix issues with current migrant workers’ legislation
The CEO of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, Mike Park OBE, has called on the UK government to sort of the current situation which allows loopholes in migrant workers’ rights.
His call comes after two reports this week, one from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) called ‘One Way Ticket to Labour Exploitation’ and a report from the University of Nottingham called ‘Letting Exploitation off the Hook’ which singles out the current Transit Visa as the main culprit leading to abuses of migrant workers.
Speaking to The Fishing Daily, Mr Park was asked his opinion of the reports. He said:
“There are two things that is one area that it crops up in each document separately. One is the position by ITF, which pretty much supports the industry position that we need to get a system that’s fit for purpose and whereas the government, by introducing the skilled worker status for crew on vessels over nine metres, thought they were solving the problem, the B1 English Cert exam is now our bed issue. We can’t get crew through that through that stumbling block.
“The other report by the University of Nottingham I guess is a characterisation of the fleet that we just don’t accept and don’t recognise. Now, that’s not to say that you have to improve our performance or try and weed out any sort of rogue elements in terms of how they treat non-UK workers or indeed UK workers.
“It is not a categorisation of the fleet that we accept, and indeed, by the road words they say that you know, going by the way they’ve conducted this investigation and it cannot be generalised over the sector or throughout the fishing industry. So, they themselves acknowledge that is not the case everywhere.
“But I think what readers need to understand this and industry has come a long way since the introduction of ILO 18C188, and indeed we’re routinely spot-checked by MCA and there are no big issues that have been raised by them over the last 18 months to two years.”
Asked why these reports are painting the industry in a bad light even though it’s difficult to find the proof on the ground Mr Park answered, “It’s almost like Seaspiracy, isn’t it?
“They trawl up the worst cases around the world and they applied here. I’m not saying that’s the case of Nottingham University, but the mention of £400 wage and things like that just doesn’t go on in this country, but we know it goes on elsewhere abroad.
In any industry, if you look, you’ll find unacceptable elements, and indeed I guess the fishing industry is no different, but the the bland characterisation that this is commonplace is not an industry that that we recognise, nor is it a comment that we accept or criticism that we accept. That said, we need to do more to ensure these things don’t happen.
Asked whether the picture of migrant workers being held onboard fishing vessels as prisoners, Mr Park said that the blame lay with the government not reforming the Transit Visa. He said, “The transit visa pretty much says that the fact if a crewman is not aboard the fishing vessel when it sails, then they will be classed as an absconder.
“Now that’s a government approach which has nothing to do with the industry and it’s something we wanted changed for a long, long time. It’s nothing to do with how the industry is applying the regulations. It’s about how we are trying to fit into a definition of the regulation by others.
Mr Park said the fishing industry has been asking the government to change the regulations in order to protect migrant workers, but nothing has been really done in with this issue, which is becoming frustrating.
“We’ve been down to see George Eustice, Defra and Victoria Prentis, and on each occasion, we’ve made them aware that something needs to change because the fishing industry in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales are suffering as a result of inappropriate regulations on non-UK crew.
Asked if boat owners were employing crew because they are cheaper to employ Mr Park said that wasn’t the case. The issues lie with a shortage of local crew and an aging workforce at that.
The I mean the non-UK could come in on fixed agreed contract so it’s a fixed cost to the vessel whether the vessel is fishing or not. There’s no risk element. They get paid per month.
“Fishermen on a share of the catch, in many cases are at times going in without the wage, especially in some of the smaller vessels when it’s bad weather etc.
“During breakdowns contracted non-UK continue to get paid their age because it’s contracted.
“Is there a business element in this?
“There may be in some cases, but at the end of the day, there is a dire shortage of UK crew where we are now. We are now drawing from a very very small pool of able-bodied people, willing to work for a living and less so willing to work about the fishing vessel for the living. More people are now going on to further education more people can see a career on the on the sea, but they go to oil and gas or now they go to offshore wind or if you live in the West of Scotland they go to the aquaculture firms, so there’s more people now drawing from the pool of young people to be drew from not bearing mail notwithstanding the fact that that pool is significantly smaller than it was.
“We have got tens and hundreds of vessels up the West of Scotland and the Clyde, desperate for crew, desperate for people to help them crew their vessels.”
Without crews the vessels cannot operate and without a new generation of fishermen and women coming along then it becomes difficult to keep operating into the future. One of the major concerns raised by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is food security. For coastal states such as the UK, having an abundance of high protein food on your doorstep is important.
“The government needs to put regulations in a place that allows the industry to thrive,” says Mr Park We’re now in a different time in our life where food security is becoming a big issue. If our vessels can’t put to sea because they don’t have crew, then that’s part of the food security starting to crumble.
“We’re not a big industry. It doesn’t take a lot to solve the problems that we have, and government have it within their grasp.
Boris Johnson thinks in helping the industry just throws money at it, like a £100 million.
That that doesn’t help the boat owners can’t get crew. So, it needs these more thinking and more planning. We’re not alone in the shortage of workers. Fruit growers, farmers etc are all looking for workers.
“This needs a focus by the government, and it needs a clear change in the law regards to bringing in non-UK workers.”