Transit visas and migrant worker concerns in the UK fishing industry

Transit visas and migrant worker concerns in the UK fishing industry

This week has seen the publication of two reports raising concerns about transit visas and migrant worker welfare. Here is our response.

On Monday The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) published a briefing paper suggesting that transit visa loopholes are being used to exploit migrant fishers on UK fishing vessels. On Tuesday The University of Nottingham published a report on working conditions across the UK fishing fleet which raises concerns about the treatment of migrant workers.

In response, our Director of Operations Aoife Martin said:

“We are committed to supporting a socially responsible seafood industry and do not condone the unfair treatment of crew on fishing vessels. Any mistreatment or abuse of fishing crew, regardless of nationality, should be condemned outright, and when abuses are uncovered then the individuals responsible should be dealt with appropriately. The safety and welfare of fishing crews while at sea is of paramount importance.

“We are aware of previous issues with poor treatment of crew amongst certain vessel operators, but we also know that the industry as a collective has made inroads in identifying and addressing the factors that lead to this type of behaviour. Whilst the welfare issues raised in the University of Nottingham report are not reflective of every fishing vessel in the UK, the findings are concerning and highlight there is still work to do. We are committed to working across industry and with government to ensure that the UK fishing sector is an exemplar in what a fishing industry should look like.

“The ITF briefing paper makes sensible recommendations on how to improve the visa system and we know that these are issues the fishing industry has been proposing and working towards for many years.

“We do not agree with the suggestion that the UK fishing industry has made use of the transit visa system to enable the exploitation of non-UK workers. The transit visa system was established to allow merchant seamen to travel to the UK for the purpose of boarding ships at UK ports. Until recently it provided the only visa option for fishing businesses to bring in crew from overseas to work on commercial UK vessels fishing outside territorial waters. The UK fishing industry have been working hard to find a better system. We have supported the industry and UK Government throughout the development of a process which now allows fishing crew to be brought in under the skilled worker scheme. This system is still not without challenges, and we will continue to work with industry and government to help iron these out, but it is the best way forward for bringing in overseas workers.

“We know that access to labour is a significant issue facing large parts of the UK, including the catching sector. As a result many UK fishing vessel rely on crew from outside the UK. These crew can come from the EU but also further afield, for example the Philippines and Ghana. We estimate that 19% of crew across UK commercial fishing vessels are from outside the UK.

“We hope that discussion of the ITF briefing paper and University of Nottingham report can bring about a positive change and would encourage engagement and dialogue with the fishing industry and the wider seafood supply chain. Both papers are on the agenda for discussion at our Seafood Ethics Common Language Group meeting on Tuesday 24 May.”