Innovative new scheme for crew welfare being developed

The North East Scottish fishing industry last week hosted an in-depth tour and series of meetings with representatives of the Seafood Ethics Action (SEA) Alliance, designed to foster better understanding of the industry and the issues relating to employment of foreign crew on UK vessels.

The SEA Alliance includes in membership 32 UK retailers and seafood businesses that between them represent 95% of the UK seafood market. It was specifically set up to look at human rights across the seafood supply chain, with a particular interest in crew welfare.

The visit to the North East included several sites visits, explained Mike Park, CEO of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association and a member of the Fishermen’s Welfare Alliance.

“This was a long-planned visit by the SEA Alliance members, and was more than just a meeting to discuss crewing issues,” he told Fishing News. “Ahead of a two-hour round- table to discuss the detail, we were able to take the group around Peterhead market, where there were getting on for 7,000 boxes up for auction.

“In spite of their experience further down the seafood chain, many of the visitors were still amazed at the quality of the fish up for sale, as well as the steps taken at the market to maintain quality and ensure full traceability.

“We moved on to a guided tour of the Peterhead-registered Atlantic Challenge, one of the UK’s largest vessels, provided by the skipper John Buchan, and then on to the newly delivered Daystar FR 86 in Fraserburgh, where skipper Stephen West was able to show the visitors the level and standard of accommodation that’s now being provided for all crew, regardless of nationality, in vessels entering the fleet.

The SEA Alliance visit include a guided tour by skipper John Buchan around the Challenge, including the crew accommodation.

“Prior to that, we’d supported meetings between the SEA Alliance and SWFPA Crew Services, to show detail of our own recruitment process, the support we offer to foreign crews, and the efforts we are making to bring in external, third-party certification of crew welfare standards. It is vital in this respect that we are not ‘marking our own homework’.

“We are looking to have a pilot scheme in place within the next few months, after having had a number of talks and visits with potential certifiers. We learned a lot from our exchange visit with the US-based workers’ coalition that did so much to stamp out abuse of migrant tomato pickers, as reported last year, and would like to develop a similar, bottom-up approach suited to the fishing industry.”

A spokesperson for the SEA Alliance told FN: “The Alliance has developed a UK action plan that acknowledges the serious issues in parts of the UK fishing industry, highlighted by a number of independent reports, including from the University of Nottingham. The visit to Peterhead and Fraserburgh was a real opportunity to learn more about the role that the seafood industry can play in addressing these concerns.

“In particular, during our meetings, the Alliance mentioned three areas of concern:

  • Unfair pay, where we see that foreign workers are being paid less than their UK counterparts for the same job
  • A lack of safeguards in the recruitment process
  • Insufficient rest periods for crew at sea.

A two-hour meeting was held in the Peterhead Port Authority offices after the market tour to discuss all aspects of crew welfare.

“We also discussed a pilot project for external certification of crew welfare issues, and setting up of a 24/7 helpline for any foreign crew who need support or have any type of grievance with their employers.

“The companies involved will now be meeting to reflect on what was learned, and the discussions we had, to discuss the next steps forward. They also agreed to provide additional funds for the International Transport Workers’ Federation and Stella Maris, to help them engage further with foreign crew through the ‘Change on the Waterfront’ project that they run.”

A visit to Fraserburgh included a tour of the newly completed Daystar, including an inspection of the state of the art crew accommodation.

Acknowledging the issues raised, Mike Park said that the discussions had been frank, and honest. “As well as the pilot project, which is a priority, we were able to confirm good progress on other issues. The SWFPA Crew Services has been able to stop completely the process whereby a crewman on a transit visa was bonded to a single boat. That is over now.

“We’ve also, as a group, moved to ensure the recruitment process involves zero payment from crew themselves, either upfront or as a debt to be paid later to agents. We will report agencies that attempt to do this, and we have not hesitated to stop supplying crew to vessels where poor treatment is a risk.

“We’ve also acknowledged the concerns raised about unfair pay. There is a discussion to be had about the value of benefits in kind that include all accommodation and living expenses when vessels are in port – but nonetheless, differential pay is something that we need to address, and something that we will be discussing internally as we move towards the independent certification scheme that we are all committed to implementing.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

Sign up to Fishing News’ FREE e-newsletter here



Subscribe to Fishing News magazine today; never miss an issue and save 55%!