Fisherman who worked over 17 hours a day awarded more than €20,000 compensation after WRC ruling

An Egyptian fisherman who worked over 17 hours a day while at sea has been awarded more than €20,000 compensation.

In a new decision, Workplace Relations Commission adjudication officer Eugene Hanly said it was “essential” that fishermen are protected against working excessive hours due to safety risks.

He found that Ali Rezk’s rights under working time and payment of wages legislation were breached while working for trawler owner Sean Doran.

The fisherman (63) told a hearing he worked 17 hours a day at sea and was on call for the remainder when he worked for Mr Doran between December 2016 and August 2019.

He said he was paid for eight hours a day.

The fisherman said no record of his working hours existed so he had to rely on fishing logs.

“I’m glad I took this step and encourage other fishers in a similar position to do something about it,” he said yesterday.

The Workplace Relations Commission heard he had a limited knowledge of English, was unaware of his employment rights and previously worked as an undocumented migrant fisherman.

He saw his work was very precarious while he was undocumented and felt wholly dependent on his employer for “all aspects of his life”.

Mr Doran rejected his claims that he was not paid for the hours he worked, was not compensated for public holidays, and did not get the correct holidays.

He said there were four employees on the boat, and he had a very good knowledge of English.

The employer said the boat did not operate to full throttle and the fish catch was very limited.

He said boredom was a factor due to the small amount of work and the skipper rejected Mr Rezk’s estimation of the hours he worked.

Mr Doran said he was facilitated with his religious practices and food, stopped working for prayers and was given time to watch football matches.

He said it was not a profitable business, but “washed its face”.

On shore, he said Mr Rezk could not work in the shop due to his poor English. He said he worked in a factory for three to six hours but was paid for eight.

He said he worked more than 39 hours some weeks, but some weeks less. Mr Doran said he was not charged for food, and only paid for cigarettes and the Lotto and was provided with non-beer batter food in restaurants. He said there was no work on the boat, except twice a month when nets would be checked and mended, which he said was a morning’s work.

The adjudication officer said organisation of working time legislation requires an employer to maintain records of hours worked so he was obliged to accept the complainant’s evidence.

He said on the balance of probabilities, he worked 77 days at 17 hours per day, and was paid eight hours so was due over €5,364 in addition to a smaller amount for public holidays.

Mr Hanly found his working hours exceeded a maximum of 72 hours a week under organisation of working time regulations.

“I find that this is an industry that is subject to some very challenging weather conditions and the safety of fishermen is of paramount importance,” he said.

“I find that it is essential that fishermen are protected against working excessive hours which may cause them to make errors in their work which could negatively impact on their safety and that of their colleagues.”

He said the employer should pay another €15,000 compensation for breaches of his rights “which is to serve as an effective, dissuasive and proportionate deterrent”.

Mr Rezk also claimed he was not paid in accordance with national minimum wage legislation. Mr Hanly said the claim was not well-founded as he did not seek a written statement of his hourly pay.

Michael O’Brien of the International Transport Workers Federation said there were deficiencies in law that prevented the adjudicator from ruling on the whole period the fisherman was employed.

He said the “cognisable period” unpaid wages can be retrieved is normally six months prior to a complaint being submitted, or 12 months in extenuating circumstances.

“Under the system we have, the odds are stacked against a migrant fisher pursuing justice, let alone keeping their job or ability to stay in this country if they speak up,” he said. “Hence the tendency for cases to be taken after the fisher parts company with the employer.”