Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Filipino fishermen suffer abuse

By Andy Martin
Good Morning Ulster

A BBC investigation has found evidence of physical and racial abuse of Filipino nationals in Northern Ireland's fishing industry.

While the abuse is not widespread in the industry, evidence was found of horrendous working hours and pay and intimidation.

The local fleet relies on a steady stream of men from Manila due to the extreme shortage of available local labour.

The main complaint is the working hours. One crew told how they were forced to work seven days in a row, and up to 34 hours without sleep.

When not fishing they said they were given other jobs such as painting and collecting shell-fish from the shore. They said they could be paid as little as 20 for five days work.

One man broke down as he explained that this meant he was unable to send money back to his family in the Philippines.

The 20 is quickly used up in mobile phone credit, the only means by which he can keep in touch with his wife and children.

The skipper or boat owner is supposed to send a fee to an agent in Manila, who takes a cut and sends the rest on to their families.

fishing nets
About 100 Filipinos work in the fishing industry in Northern Ireland

But some fishermen were put on a share system, similar to the conditions of local fishermen, as soon as they arrived.

This system works by giving a fisherman a cut of whatever price the catch fetches.

If the boat cannot go out because of storms, there is no money, and their families get nothing.

Mark Palmer owns a number of boats and manages 23 others in Portavogie and Ardglass, indirectly employing 41 Filipinos.

He said that they are treated better than the local fishermen in Portavogie, given that they have a contract awarding a monthly fee, where fishermen in Northern Ireland are only entitled to a share of the price of the catch.

These contracts are still well below the minimum wage, amounting to pay of $515 per month.

Mr Palmer said he also pays a bonus, depending on the size of the catch. This means they are getting paid about 1.20 an hour.

The BBC spoke to a Filipino last week who got just 100 for working the previous two weeks, but he was extremely happy with his lot.

I couldn't believe the violence and the rage the man was in. He was out of control

Man who overheard row between skipper and Filipino fisherman

According to the Department of Employment and Learning, all those working predominantly in UK waters are entitled to minimum wage regardless of their nationality.

So some Filipinos are getting four and a half times less than they should.

During this investigation we found evidence of more extreme maltreatment. One man described how he was kicked and a colleague punched and had his head hit off a wall.

The crew later left for the Philippines. An affidavit from another member of the crew said: "When he's drunk he used to punch or hit one of us.

"We also saw one of our co-workers who was strangled by him causing an injury on his neck."

'Made to be afraid'

Fr Donal Bennett is a priest in Omagh who worked in Manila as a missionary for forty years. He has helped some of those in distress.

"These men are made to be afraid. They do endure all of this mistreatment because of their family at home," said Fr Bennett.

"Most of them are married with children, whom they miss. They also have a huge debt at home to the gent in Manila in order to get here".

A flight to Manila costs 1,000, the price of a house on a Philippine island.

Those that do complain have no legal status. One couple, a local man and his Filipino wife, described what happened after an assembly member called the police with concerns about the treatment of one fisherman.

They were speaking to the man on the phone when he was approached by the skipper.

They described hearing the skipper swearing at the man and said the man sounded "very, very scared".

"I was continuously listening," said the local man.

"I couldn't believe the violence and the rage the man was in. He was out of control and shouting 'I'm going to deport you tonight. You're going tonight before you talk to anybody'."

The local man said he made a complaint to the police. It was later learned the Filipino man was deported by immigration.

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