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ITF targets UK visa system in report on exploitation of fishers

16 May 2022

The International Transport Workers’ federation (ITF) is highlighting the UK's inadequate visa system in a new report on exploitation of workers in the country's fishing industry.

The report, titled 'A One Way Ticket to Labour Exploitation', found that fishing vessel owners have been using a loophole in the system that allows them to employ non-UK crew and let them live on their fishing boats while working.

A transit visa is intended to allow non-UK seafarers to board ships in UK ports before leaving for international waters. However, if a fishing vessel moves just outside the 12 nautical mile radius of UK waters after taking foreign crew onboard then this visa scheme will apply to them as well. These fishers technically do not re-enter the UK until they step off the vessel, which allows owners to keep poorly paid workers in bad conditions without them technically being in the UK.

This also allows owners to threaten workers with the prospect of being removed from their vessels. Then the visa would no longer apply, making the fisher an illegal immigrant.

The ITF is therefore recommending changes to the law to make it more specific, cutting out this abusive practice in the fishing industry.

'We have grave concerns that some fishing vessel owners continue to exploit the vulnerable position these workers are in with unfair, and even illegal practices, at work,' said Chris Williams, a fisheries expert and socio-economic specialist from the ITF Fisheries Section who authored the report.

'Transit visas are the starting point for a cycle of abuse that should never have been tolerated. Changing the system to close the loophole will be a major step in protecting worker rights. That change is urgently needed.'