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Fishing crew from non- European Economic Area (EEA) states will be eligible for a new employment permit system, the Government has said.

The new permit system, equivalent to a “Stamp 4” immigration permission with its wider entitlements, will replace the current Atypical working scheme for migrant fishing crew which has been widely criticised.

The new system is a key recommendation of a review group’s report, published on October 11th by the Government.

A cross-departmental group of senior officials in relevant departments and agencies will be established to oversee implementation of the transition from the current to the new scheme.

It will be co-chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, with an “expected overall time frame” of 12 months for implementing the report’s recommendations.

The report and its recommendations were jointly welcomed by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Damien English, and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.

The Atypical Working Scheme (AWS) for non-EEA crew in the Irish fishing fleet was established in 2015 as a cross-departmental response to address claims of exploitation and trafficking of undocumented non-EEA workers on certain categories of vessels in the Irish fishing fleet, the Government said in a statement.

Currently, non-EEA fishers can apply through the Department of Justice for permission under the Atypical Working Scheme to work on a specific Irish vessel for a period of up to 12 months.

However, they are not eligible for an employment permit issued by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

The sector will be required to submit a comprehensive business case to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to support their inclusion in the Employment Permits System, and a “process of engagement has already begun in this regard”, the Government has said.

A study by Maynooth University said that the Atypical Working Scheme permission - under which the worker is contracted to an individual employer- and the necessity to renew this permission each year can be used by employers as a “means to threaten and exploit workers”.

Over two-thirds of those interviewed for the Maynooth University study – which was funded by the International Transport Federation (ITF) - said they would work between 15 and 20 hours a day, and pay was usually below the minimum wage.

“The publication of this report and its recommendations is the first step in putting non-EEA seafishers on a similar path to other non-EEA nationals employed in the State in terms of entitlements and protections,”Ms McEntee said.

"Non-EEA fishers and their employers will now be entitled to apply for an employment permit through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment,” she said.

"These recommendations will also benefit seafishers’ employers, by streamlining the permission process and making it easier to recruit non-EEA seafishers,” she said.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said he had asked his department to examine the review group’s report and “to work closely with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with a view to ensuring the full implementation of the recommendations”.

“I have also tasked an Bord Iascaigh Mhara with providing the fishing sector with any practical assistance necessary to support of the sector’s access to the employment permit scheme," he said.

Minister of State Damien English said the report’s recommendations “will go a long way to addressing the concerns raised by stakeholders in the sector”.

“Of course, the Employment Permits system works very differently from the Atypical Working Scheme so it is proper that there will be a phased implementation in order to identify and address any challenges which arise and deal with these in the most effective way possible,” Mr English said.

Published in Fishing

The International Transport Workers' Federation says it is handing in a study Maynooth University conducted on migrant fishing crew to a Government review today.

The study by Maynooth University’s law department on the experiences of non-EEA workers in the Irish fishing industry will be submitted to the Government's review of the Atypical work permit scheme.

Michael O’Brien, who is the federation’s fisheries campaign lead for Ireland, says the study is a “devastating critique of the failures of the Atypical scheme since its inception six years ago”.

He says it makes a number of recommendations that, if implemented, would “go far in liberating migrant fishers, both documented and undocumented, from below minimum wage employment and precarious status in the state”.

The study collated testimony from migrant fishers of “ongoing abuses in the sector”, O’Brien said.

The Government announced that an inter-departmental group, headed up by the Department of Justice, would carry out the review of the Atypical work permit scheme.

Read the submission here

Published in Fishing