labour force irish fishing

BIM report ‘Labour Force Analysis of the Irish Fleet’, provides a detailed analysis of the Irish fishing sector labour force

Bord Iascaigh Mhara has published the report ‘Labour Force Analysis of the Irish Fleet’ which aims to provide a detailed analysis of the Irish fishing sector labour force and develop proposals to address the main challenges concerning recruitment and retention of crew in the sector.

The analysis in this report is drawn from a range of data sources, and inputs from stakeholders and fishing representative organisations. BIM fisheries data has informed the analysis of the fishing sector segments, trends and average crew. Surveys were also carried out with fishing crew and employers in the sector. These surveys provided important new evidence on the views of the sector on the labour market and on ways to address any issues identified. The survey findings also provided some indicative estimates of the prevalence of different types of employment contracts and earnings.

Data from the CSO was used to complement the survey – specifically, data from the Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC), the Labour Force Survey (LFS), published by the CSO, and administrative data on earnings, as well as other relevant CSO data.

The project team met with representatives of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, the Irish South and East Fishermen’s Producer Organisation, the Irish South and West Fishermen’s Producer Organisation, the International Transport Workers Federation, and the National Fishermen’s Development Group, as well as individual fishermen.

This report has completed a labour force analysis of the Irish fishing fleet using new primary research of crew and employers in the sector, consultations with key stakeholders and representative bodies in the sector, as well as labour market data from the CSO. The new primary research has provided insights into employment practices within the sector, as well as insights into the key challenges facing the sector in terms of recruitment and retention in the sector. Potential policy solutions have been suggested.

The analysis in this report has confirmed the widely held view that the fishing sector faces significant recruitment challenges. Issues within the sector which were identified as limiting the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants include:

  • The average earnings in the sector.
  • The lack of welfare entitlements under the share fishing model. • A lack of a demonstrable path to career progression in the sector. • The length of time at sea required; and
  • The perception that the sector is one in decline.

In a wider labour market context, the report found the sector is facing challenges caused by the relatively slower growth in the labour force in rural and coastal areas and that the demographics of these areas are seeing the population age more quickly than urban areas of the country.

Additionally, several sectors with which the fishing sector is competing intensively for workers, have been experiencing significant growth in recent years. The number of people in the labour force without higher education qualifications has been steadily decreasing in recent years, leading to a smaller share of the labour force that are likely to be seeking employment in sectors predominantly employing those without higher education qualifications, such as fishing. The increasing returns for higher education graduates in the Irish labour force are continuing to draw younger people into further and higher education rather than entering the labour force as a relatively unskilled worker.

This focus on the return to higher skilled employment highlights the importance of ensuring that potential new entrants are aware of the training and qualifications available to those in the fishing sector, as well as the supports for workers pursuing these, and the pathways to skilled employment in the fishing sector, and the wider marine economy, that these qualifications can open up.

The primary research completed for this study demonstrates that, outside of the RSW pelagic segment, wages in the fishing sector are lower than those on offer in sectors of the wider economy, particularly construction, a sector which also attracts a similar cohort of the labour force to that of the fishing sector. Consultations for this study have indicated that employers in many segments of the fishing fleet do not see any scope for wage increases, in light of rising costs and decreasing profitability.

Given the challenges facing recruitment to the sector, this report has outlined a number of recommendations with regards to increasing engagement with young people, improving the perceptions of the sector as a viable choice for new entrants as well as developing an apprenticeship programme for the sector, and giving consideration to the development of a wider qualification facilitating employment in both the fishing and wider maritime economy. The availability of a transferable qualification within the marine sector has the potential to be an important means of attracting new entrants to the fishing sector by providing the opportunity for future career development within the wider blue economy.

While recognising that share fishing is likely to remain the means of employment most beneficial for smaller employers in the sector, employers should be encouraged to consider the merits of offering PAYE employment to new entrants in order to provide access to social welfare entitlements and additional certainty with regards to income and job security. Consideration should be given to encouraging employment on a PAYE basis with a portion of the total income remaining contingent on the overall catch. Supports should be in place to ensure that employers are aware of the process of hiring via PAYE.

Finally, while the assessment of the ultimate costs and benefits of changes to taxation policy are beyond the scope of this research document, changes in the tax allowances for the fishing sector have the potential to increase the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants by increasing the take-home pay of crew in the sector. Consideration of any policy interventions outlined require consultations with both central government and the Revenue Commissioners if they were to be progressed.

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Brian J McMullin Soliciors Killybegs
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