The Scheme for the employment of non-EEA fishers in parts of the Irish commercial sea-fishing fleet was launched on 15th February 2016. The Scheme is an extension of the Atypical Working Scheme, administered by the Department of Justice & Equality (Irish Naturalisation & Immigration Service), and was introduced based on a series of recommendations made by the Government Task Force on Non-EEA workers in the Irish Fishing Fleet in December 2015. This Task Force was established following reports of alleged abuses of migrant workers on board Irish fishing vessels.
The granting of permissions to work in the State, under this Scheme, is a matter for decision by the Irish Naturalisation & Immigration Service. My Department’s role in the Department of Justice and Equality Scheme is limited to hosting the Central Depository, which facilitates applications for Pre-Approvals to the Scheme, and chairing the Oversight Committee established to monitor the Scheme and ensure that it is operating as intended.
The Scheme provided for the first time a structured and transparent framework for the employment of non-EEA workers within defined segments of the Irish fishing fleet. The Scheme sets down minimum terms and conditions of employment applicable to non-EEA fishers which are in line with the general statutory terms and conditions applicable to workers more generally in the State. The Scheme was welcomed as a solution to the risk of exploitation and to guarantee employment rights and protections to non-EEA fishers availing of the Scheme.
In April 2019, following proceedings taken by the International Transport Workers’ Federation against the relevant Government Departments in relation to the Scheme, a mediation agreement was reached and signed by all parties. The Agreement contained 21 individual commitments focused on enhancing the terms and conditions of non-EEA fishers under the Atypical Scheme. Actions to meet all of the agreed settlement commitments have been undertaken. Of the 21 commitments, 18 have been completed in full with the remaining 3 in progress. The 3 “in progress” commitments relate to issues of a regulatory/legislative nature which are outside of the control of the Oversight Committee. I am happy to report that there are no commitments entered into by the relevant Departments where no action has taken place.
Additionally, the Oversight Committee, chaired by my Department, agreed as part of the settlement to meet on a two monthly basis for the first six months post the Agreement and quarterly thereafter. To date, the Oversight Committee has met on four occasions, with the next meeting scheduled for February 2020. Prior to these meetings taking place, all interested parties are supplied with details of the topics for discussion and invited to make submissions. The minutes of the Oversight Committee meetings are published on the Department's website www.agriculture.ie.
A recent communication received by the Oversight Committee via the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation indicated that the Sectoral Policies Department of the International Labour Organisation perceives the Irish model for addressing the employment protection issues of migrant fishers as a useful example to assist other countries make the necessary changes in this area.