Carmichael to lobby ministers following revelations on gillnet worker conditions

14 Aug 2023

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, is to lobby the UK ministers and other organisations to challenge unsafe and unfair worker practices following concerning reports about the working conditions of gill netters operating in Northern Isles waters.

A recent programme by German broadcaster NDR documented crew on gillnetters (including the Pesorsa Dos) working 12-hour days for lengthy periods with no time off, being paid 800 euros per month, far below normal minimum wage levels.

The Pesorsa Dos was previously reported in June 2020 in the waters around Shetland following an alleged attempt to foul the propeller of the whitefish trawler Alison Kay. Mr Carmichael raised the matter in Parliament and pushed an amendment to the Fisheries Bill then in progress to challenge gillnetting practices, but action was rejected by the government, as the incidents occurred outside the 12-mile limit.

Gillnetting has largely been abandoned by UK vessels due in part to its extensive environmental impact, particularly from abandoned nets, and local fishermen in Shetland have campaigned for more action against such “ghost nets”.

The isles MP warned that current rules of enforcement out in the open sea were not fit for purpose, and needed to be brought much closer to the home ports.

Mr Carmichael said:

“It is the total lack of moral compass in the way these people do business: in their willingness to bully small boats off their traditional fishing grounds, in their reckless disregard for fish stocks and the health of the oceans leaving vast amount of plastic, waste and discarded net behind, and now their willingness to exploit financially these workers form Indonesia.

“If the environmental damage that is done by boats like this and the commercial damage to our own people is not enough to force them [the UK Government] to act, then surely now because what we have here is just one step removed from modern slavery.

“Even if this is legislatively the responsibility of the German Government, as it may be, then we need to put serious pressure on the German Government to do something about this.

“We could have acted on this, but it is the indifference of the remarkable lack of curiosity that you find in enforcement agencies in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom that allows this to go undetected.

“It took the Irish to pull this boat up and for this to come to light. If Marine Scotland would have been prepared to take a tougher line with these guys for the years that we have been asking them to do it, then it would have been a Scottish or a British enforcement agency and not an Irish one that would have brought this to light.”