African and Asian migrants 'used as cheap labour on Irish fishing vessels'
Spot-checks will be conducted at major Irish fishing ports for undocumented workers as an investigation gets under way into claims African and Asian migrants are being used as cheap labour on some vessels.
Marine Minister Simon Coveney admitted he was "very concerned" about the allegations, which followed a year-long investigation into the fishing industry in some Irish and Scottish ports.
The probe, undertaken by 'The Guardian' newspaper, focused on the prawn and whitefish sector.
It claimed to have uncovered migrant workers being confined to vessels and being paid between 25pc and 50pc what Irish crew earn.
It said they had to undertake marathon work shifts, were deprived of proper sleep and time off, as well as living in fear that any complaint could result in them being sent home.
The worst alleged treatment involved workers recruited from Egypt, India, the Philippines and Ghana.
It is alleged some migrant workers were made available to trawler operators for €700 a month - with the worker receiving less than this for working up to 29 of 31 days in the month.
Mr Coveney said he was taken aback that the claims revolved around fishing ports in both Cork and Galway.
"I am very concerned about the allegations made today with regard to the treatment of workers on board Irish fishing trawlers, particularly with regard to the safety of the workers concerned," he said.
The Cork South-Central TD confirmed the gardaí were now leading a special project to review the treatment of migrant workers.
"This project aims to provide a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach to the issue, involving a broad range of competent State agencies including relevant marine, immigration and employment rights authorities and civil society organisations," he added.
Mr Coveney appealed to anyone with information about possible abuses to contact the gardaí immediately.
However, the International Transport Federation (ITF) said it had raised repeated concerns over the situation facing non-EU workers within the Irish fishing fleet.
The ITF accused the Government of effectively ignoring the problem.
Union officials complained for the first time seven years ago about the problems encountered by non-EU migrants working within the fishing fleets in both Ireland and Scotland.
Fishing industry officials have disputed the claims.
"There are some Filipino fishermen working on Donegal boats but they are well paid and well looked after," said one former skipper.
"They are brilliant workers; they are treated extremely well because of that and are provided with the best on-shore accommodation. They are working here legally and are embraced by the local community."