News & Events

WRC inspections in fisheries sector detect over 200 contraventions across 150 vessels

The Workplace Relations Commissions (WRC) has today (Thursday) published its report on its operations over the past 18 months in support of multi-agency enforcement of the Atypical Worker Permission Scheme for non-EEA workers engaged on certain fishing vessels[1].

Since February 2016, the WRC has-

  • signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with other agencies to support cooperation in relation to enforcement and associated information sharing,
  • delivered an educational and awareness campaign within the whitefish sector,
  • engaged with industry stakeholders to enhance compliance,
  • trained ten WRC inspectors at the National Fisheries Training College for deployment on fisheries inspections,
  • undertaken 208 inspections of the whitefish fleet, involving 150 of the 176 whitefish vessels over 15 metres in length,
  • detected almost 200 contraventions, relating to 110 vessels, to the end of June, 2017, and
  • initiated 5 prosecutions where compliance by other means was not secured.


The WRC intends to inspect the remaining 26 vessels by the end of Summer, 2017.

The contraventions detected by the WRC to the end of June relate to failure to produce or to keep records (36%), leave, public holiday and Sunday entitlements (20%),   working without permission (14%) and a failure to issue payslips (13%).

The primary objectives of the Atypical Worker Permission Scheme, which is administered by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, are to regularise the status of non-EEA fishers engaged on whitefish vessels and afford them the protections available under Irish employment rights legislation. Some 200 Atypical Permissions were issued by INIS to end June, 2017.

 Ms. Oonagh Buckley, Director General of the WRC said that “Traditionally, WRC inspectors have not specifically targeted the fishing fleet given that many of those engaged on fishing vessels are ‘share-fishers’ and, therefore, self-employed. In addition, other agencies particularly the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport (Marine Survey Office) and Health and Safety Authority inspectors play the key role in relation to the enforcement of rest break, maximum hours of work, health and safety and living/working conditions requirements.   That is why effective cooperation on the ground and the sharing of information between the many agencies involved are key to successful outcomes from these multi-faceted enforcement efforts.”

The Director General added that “the WRC aims to achieve compliance with Minimum Wage, Annual Leave, Public Holiday, Payment of Wages, Terms of Employment and record keeping requirements. While Inspectors will work with vessel owners in this regard the WRC has sought, and will continue to seek, rectification of contraventions and, where relevant, the payment of any unpaid wages arising from contraventions. Many vessel owners engage with Inspectors and respond satisfactorily, but if they don’t, the WRC will move to deal with contraventions through compliance and fixed payment notices or prosecutions.”


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Report on WRC Enforcement of the Atypical Worker Permission Scheme in the Sea Fishing Fleet

Workplace Relations Commission

With a wide workforce of almost 200 staff with different specialisms and with offices in Dublin, Carlow, Shannon, Cork and Sligo, and operational bases for hearing meetings in many other counties, the WRC’s mission is to

  • deliver a quality customer service throughout Ireland, which is speedy, user-friendly, independent, effective, impartial and cost-effective,
  • provide variable means of dispute resolution, redress and effective enforcement, and
  • improve workplace relations generally.


Key WRC Metrics from Annual Report 2016

  •  63,000 calls dealt with by the Information Unit,
  •  86% of collective disputes resolved,
  •  Almost 5,000 inspections undertaken which covered 75,000 employees – this equates to 1 in 6 employments in the low wage sectors,
  •  €1.5 million in unpaid wages recovered,
  •  75% of adjudication complaints are now heard in five months - prior to the establishment of the WRC, complainants could be waiting two years for a hearing,
  •  Two-thirds of employment rights disputes resolved at mediation and 85% of workplace disputes are resolved as well,
  •  90 per cent of adjudication decisions accepted and, of those appealed, the majority of those decisions were upheld by the Labour Court.


An article in the Guardian newspaper published on 2nd November, 2015 alleged that migrant workers on board Irish fishing vessels had in some cases been trafficked onto vessels for labour exploitation, were paid below minimum wage or were not paid wages, were subjected to extreme sleep deprivation and dangerous working practices and had been denied freedom of movement. The article also suggested that individuals had been routed legally through the UK to Northern Ireland and transported illegally into the Republic of Ireland without any Irish permission or Visa.


The Irish Government established, in November, 2015, a Task Force to 1) examine the issues raised by the Guardian article and to formulate a co-ordinated and effective cross-Government response to the matter and 2) to make recommendations to minimise the risk of exploitation while ensuring that reputable employers are in a position to recruit trained and experienced crew members. The Task Force’s Report was published in December, 2015 and its primary recommendation proposed the establishment of a specific atypical worker permission mechanism to allow the structured and transparent employment of non-EEA workers within a specific segment of the Irish fishing fleet. This Scheme was launched by the Irish National Immigration Service on 15th February, 2016.


An Inter-Agency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was agreed in order to underpin enforcement in this area by the relevant authorities including the Naval Service, the Marine Survey Office of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Health and Safety Authority, the Workplace Relations Commission, Revenue Commissioners and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. The MOU provides for further coordination and cooperation between the relevant enforcement bodies to ensure the effective and efficient enforcement of statutory requirements relating to the employment of non-EEA nationals on Irish-registered fishing vessels, facilitates effective communication and exchange of relevant information, avoids any unnecessary duplication of effort, supports a coherent and transparent cross- Government approach, maximises synergies from the actions of all signatories and promotes and supports compliance.

[1] Fishing vessels over 15 metres in length which operate in the Polyvalent, Bean Trawl or Specific fleet segments