I will pick up a theme that several Deputies addressed, namely, missed opportunity. In discussing the Marine Survey Office we need to bear in mind that Ireland has been in the spotlight because of our fisheries for reasons that are not good. There have been long-running investigations and exposures of slavery, forced labour, exploitation and of human trafficking. Credit is especially due to the International Transport Workers Federation, ITF, for its ceaseless work in trying to highlight these issues and contribute to safety at sea.
In response to many of the issues identified, an atypical working scheme for non-EEA citizens was established. However, the US State Department trafficking in persons, TIP, report shows that scheme is really not working. It highlights that fishermen in Ireland are still open to labour exploitation, forced labour and trafficking. This is a huge concern. We need to do more to protect those who make their livelihoods at sea and working on fishing vessels.
If we set out to reform aspects of the Marine Survey Office, we need to examine the role the office plays. Currently, the MSO is wholly responsible for investigating issues around working time. It does not have the resources or experience to deal with this matter. Recommendations have been made to transfer this role to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, which investigates other worker safety issues and should be looking at this issue. It has been reported that the MSO sees no role for itself in the area of human trafficking. That is flabbergasting given the allegations concerning human trafficking in the fishing industry. While we need the Marine Survey Office to hand over some of its powers, it must also be given a clear mandate. That is a missed opportunity at this time.
This is a highly fragmented area. When I have raised this issue or tabled parliamentary questions on it, the Departments of Transport, Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Justice always respond that it is an issue for one of the other Departments. We should broaden and provide overlapping mandates instead of saying “This is ours, not yours” and vice versa and putting on the blinkers rather than looking at some of the inhumane conditions people are forced to deal with. We need to transfer or extend the jurisdiction for working time to the WRC so that it is not just a matter for the MSO. In addition, the jurisdiction of the MSO should be expanded to include aspects of human trafficking. Failure to do that in the context of this Bill, in which we are amending other aspects of the Marine Survey Office, would be a missed opportunity.