Migrant Workers From India Other Countries On UK Fishing Boats Exploited Beaten Report


New Delhi: A third of migrant workers on fishing vessels across the United Kingdom (UK) work 20-hour shifts, according to a new study which concludes there is unrestrained exploitation and abuse on British ships. 

Quoting a migrant worker, a report published by The Guardian said leaving is not possible because the person is not allowed off the vessel to ask for help. Researchers at the University of Nottingham Rights Lab, which focuses on modern slavery, found fishers reported working excessive hours. They are given few breaks, and work on an average salary of £3.51 (Rs 339.14) an hour, the report said.

How Are Migrant Workers Exploited?

Migrant workers on fishing boats across the UK have been interviewed. The workers claimed that they experienced racism, and “extreme violence”. There were two reported incidents of graphic and sexually violent acts, the Guardian report said, quoting the University of Nottingham Rights Lab. 

According to the study, workers from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Ghana, Sri Lanka, and India are recruited into the UK fishing industry on “transit visas”. This is a loophole that “legalises their exploitation”, the report said, quoting the study. 

How Do Transit Visas ‘Legalise Exploitation’ Of Migrant Workers?

With the seafarers’ transit visas, workers can join ships leaving UK ports for international waters. For instance, workers can join a container ship to China. 

Since these visas tie workers to a single employer, they are left dependent on the ships’ captains for their working and living conditions, such as access to food and other essentials, and prevents them from changing jobs, the report said. Therefore, workers can be potentially abused and controlled by rogue shipowners.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which is a global union federation of transport workers’ trade unions, said in a separate briefing published this week that the use of transit visas was leading to “systematic” labour exploitation of migrants on UK vessels. The ITF called for the closure of the loophole that allows the visas to be used on fishing vessels.

Quoting Dr Jessica Sparks, associate director of the Rights Lab and author of the ITF report, the Guardian report said that “exploitative practices are widespread and endemic on vessels. She added that long hours for poor wages are endemic, and it is well known that one can pay the migrants less. 

Migrant Workers Reported “Traumatic” Experiences Of Physical Violence And Racism

Sparks noted that interviews with migrant workers revealed “traumatic” experiences of physical violence and racism. She said there were very traumatic reports of being physically beaten by captains, and that most of the migrants reported being discriminated against, especially Ghanains. She added that racial slurs were used while the migrants were beaten by captains. “The amount of physical violence was surprising to me,” she said.

There was also evidence of forced or compulsory labour among migrant workers in the UK fishing industry, the ITF report said.

According to the Guardian report, one worker told researchers that “leaving is not possible because I’m not allowed off the vessel to ask for help”. The worker added that there is no way to contact anyone. 

“The captain keeps my phone, and when he gives it to me he supervises my calls,” the worker said.

As many as 16 migrant workers were interviewed by Sparks. The researcher conducted surveys with 166 crew members of vessels registered in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, according to the report.

What Do The Surveys With Crew Members Of UK Vessels Reveal?

Of all the migrant fishers interviewed, more than 60 per cent reported hearing about or seeing their fellow workers being threatened or actually abused, whether physically, sexually, or psychologically. About 75 per cent of the migrant fishers said they felt discriminated against by their captain, and one in three said they would be unlikely to leave their jobs as they were in debt, according to the Guardian report.

According to the ITF report, migrant workers did not know who to trust. More than 60 per cent of the workers said they would never report a grievance out of fear of reprisals, either against themselves or against their families. Several workers owed debts to recruitment agencies, the report said.

The migrant workers were poorly paid on a fixed wage, while local crews were paid a “crew share”, which is a percentage of the value of the fish landed or a percentage of the profit.

Since migrant fishers using visas are required to work a “majority” of their time beyond territorial waters, and have no legal authority to “enter” the UK when returning to port, they are forced to live onboard the vessels for up to a year, the report said. The workers are forced to live onboard the fishing boats despite them being unsuitable for long-term stays.

According to the ITF, the misuse of the visa scheme had become a tool to traffic Ghanaians and Filipinos from the UK to the Republic of Ireland, the report said.

What Does The Fisherman’s Welfare Alliance Say?

The Fisherman’s Welfare Alliance (FWA), which is the first organisation in the UK to represent the whole world fish supply chain, and is made up of national fishing federations in the UK, welcomed the ITF’s conclusions that the transit worker visa was unfit for purpose. The FWA also said that the transit worker visa did not meet the requirements of a modern fishing industry, according to the Guardian report. 

The FWA added that parts of the modern fishing industry that employed non-UK fishermen through the transit visa system had long lobbied the government for improvements. These include having fishermen recognised as skilled workers.

“As industry representatives, we deplore and condemn bad practice and crew members being badly or unfairly treated, regardless of their nationality or immigration status, the Guardian report quoted the FWA as saying.

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