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Marine / Migrant fishermen report does not reflect local situation, association says

Lerwick fish market. Photo: Shetland News

A NEW report which claims that some migrant fishing workers on Scottish boats have suffered physical and racial abuse – as well as poor pay and conditions – does not reflect the local situation, according Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA).

Researchers from the University of Nottingham spoke to more than 120 migrant workers who had contact with ports across the UK and further afield – including Lerwick and Scalloway.

More than a third of workers claimed they were subjected to physical violence on a regular basis, while around 20 per cent said they did not have a signed copy of their contract.

The research does not go into further detail regarding which boats the workers have been with, or any specific locations.

Another feature of the report was that some fishermen claimed they worked up to 20 hours in a shift for less than £4 an hour.

The report concluded that there was “compelling evidence that exploitative labour practices and forced labour are endemic across the UK fishing industry”.

But SFA executive officer Sheila Keith told Shetland News that the “findings in this report are not something we recognise as issues in the Shetland fleet”.

“If the findings of this report are true, they raise significant concerns for the treatment of fishermen elsewhere,” she said.

Keith said there is a significant difference when it comes to local fishing boats – the Shetland fleet is owned and crewed by residents rather than larger companies.

“A small percentage of fishermen in our fleet are non-Shetland residents, less than half a percent, of which there is a small number of Filipino, Ghanaian and Latvian fishermen,” she explained.

“All sourced through reputable agencies, with contracts of employment. All vessels comply with the ILO188 regulations and UK employment law.”

Keith added that most of these fishermen have been working on their current boats for many years and are “very settled”.

“Surely that is a testament to good working experiences of foreign crews in our fleet,” she said.

“This was also backed up when the government’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency recently carried out a concentrated inspection campaign in Shetland – making unannounced visits to fishing vessels – there were no reports of problems with working or living conditions aboard.

“We of course, welcome any changes to improve the working conditions for fishermen to ensure the Shetland experience is replicated elsewhere.”