Frustrated migrant fishers and union representatives gathered outside the Dáil today to protest over a delay in the promised review of the Atypical Working Scheme for non-EEA fishers.
The scheme leaves migrant workers vulnerable to abuse by employers and needs urgent reform, said International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) fisheries campaign lead for Ireland, Michael O’Brien.
Some migrant fishers are so concerned about their position that despite some now being undocumented and fearful of deportation, they nevertheless came to protest at the Dáil.
Mr O’Brien said there has been an undue delay by Government in announcing the outcome of the review of the scheme.
The interdepartmental group appointed by Government concluded their deliberations on schedule in March and submitted their recommendations to the Ministers for Justice, Agriculture, and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. But there is still no firm indication as to when the outcome of the review will be made known, the ITF said.
“Minister [Charlie] McConalogue, the Minister for Agriculture, addressed the fishers here today," said Mr O'Brien, who also attended the protest.
"He said the outcome of the review would be made known very, very soon.
The ITF is calling for three urgent changes to make migrant fishers less vulnerable.
It is calling for the Atypical Work Permit Scheme to be scrapped in favour of fishers being employed under the more advantageous Critical Skills Permit system. A path to Visa Stamp 4 and full labour market access for all migrant fishers, both documented and undocumented, should be provided, the ITF said. And migrant fisher exploitation must be ended by a number of means outlined in the ITF’s submission to the review, including the correct transposition of the Working Time at Sea Directive to combat illegal and unsafe excessive working hours, it said.
Currently, more than 500 migrant workers are open to exploitation under the Atypical Work Permit Scheme which ties a fisher's work permit to a specific employer, Mr O'Brien said.
"Their work permit is tied exclusively to one vessel owner," he said.
"If they have the ability to change employers, that will incentivise vessel owners to treat them correctly. There are labour shortages in the fishing sector. If the guys can leave, it would have an upward pressure on pay and conditions."
A statement from the Department of Agriculture said that recommendations from the review group "are under active consideration with a view to bringing recommendations to Government in the near future.”
A statement from the Department of Justice said that the review group has recently concluded its work and its recommendations are under active consideration by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee; Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue; and Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail Damien English with a view to bringing recommendations to Government in the near future.
"In the meantime, the oversight committee, chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, continues to oversee the scheme as currently structured," it said.