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New research confirms Irish Atypical Work Permit Scheme needs urgent overhaul to protect fishers

news Press Release 19 Oct 2021

The official publication today of Experiences of Non-EEA Workers in the Irish Fishing Industry by Maynooth University Department of Law is confirmation that the situation facing non-European migrant fishers, both documented and undocumented, has not fundamentally improved, and if anything has worsened, in the course of the last five years since the Atypical Work Permit Scheme was introduced.

The ITF contributed to the funding and logistics of the research to support researchers to speak with migrant fishers and ex-migrant fishers.

Michael O’Brien, Fisheries Campaign Lead in Ireland for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said:

“The instances of gross overwork, underpayment and abuse cited in the research coupled with a prevailing precarity in terms of migration status which facilitates this very exploitation can only lead to the conclusion that the Atypical Work Permit Scheme as its constituted is very much part of the problem. I note yesterday’s statement from Minister for State Browne that the scheme will be reviewed again and the points of the Maynooth research will be taken into consideration."

 MU Fishers Research 2021 Infographic of Findings.png  

“The scheme ties the fisher to the individual boat owner in yearly renewable contracts. The power the employer has over the fisher is immense and the dominant sentiment among fishers is that they must endure working days of up to 20 hours and an effective pay rate well below the legal minimum wage in order to safeguard their livelihood."

“The situation for the many undocumented migrant fishers is more vulnerable again. The hundreds of detections made by the Workplace Relations Commission and Marine Survey Office of various non-compliances on the part of boat owners related to their employment of documented and undocumented migrant fishers have not resulted in dissuasive penalties. This feeds a culture of impunity and repeat offending within the vessel owner community."

“We endorse the recommendations contained in the Maynooth report. Through various measures the migrant fishers have to be liberated from the exclusive relationship they are forced into with individual boat owners. The impending migrant documentation scheme to be finalised by the Department of Justice, if it is sufficiently inclusive, could be the most direct means to achieve this. However, there are worrying indications that the scheme will be restrictive and contain anomalies that will serve to exclude most migrant fishers notwithstanding Minister for State Jim Browne’s statement yesterday to the effect that the scheme will offer a path to documentation for many fishers."

“Significant legal and operational changes are required on the part of the Workplace Relations Commission so that we in the ITF, and others in the trade union movement, can take cases on behalf of undocumented workers for unpaid wages and also achieve full wage recovery beyond the current six-month backdated limit as migrant fishers unfortunately often endure underpayment at the hands of some vessel owners for periods spanning years."

“Lastly, we need the government to correct its botched transposition of the EU’s Working Time at Sea Directive so that a remedy is available to migrant fishers for the common cases of overwork described in the report,” said the ITF's O'Brien. 

Download the full report here
Download the Arabic (condensed) version here

Upcoming initiatives from the ITF to address issues raised in the Maynooth research

Following on from the Maynooth the ITF fisheries campaign can confirm the following initiatives:

  • Fisheries Campaign Lead for the ITF in Ireland, Michael O’Brien will address the Oireachtas Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on Wednesday 20th October regarding the legislative reforms and operational changes required to make the Workplace Relations Commission effective in vindicating the rights of migrant fishers
  • The ITF, working with an individual former migrant fisher, is preparing to back judicial review proceedings to force the government to correctly transpose the Working Time at Sea Directive EU 2017/159 so that complaints relating to illegally long hours at sea can be heard by the WRC and Labour Court as is currently not the case
  • The ITF is supporting separate judicial review proceedings being taking on behalf of two migrant fishers who have worked long term in Ireland on the Atypical Work Permit Scheme and have recently had their change of status application to a stamp 4 rejected by the Department of Justice on the grounds that belong to the Atypical Scheme by itself excludes fishers no matter how long they have been documented in Ireland from improving their VISA status so that they are not tied to one vessel owner
  • Face to face discussions will take place between the ITF fisheries campaign in Ireland and representatives of the Ghanaian seafarer’s union MDU during next week’s West Africa Fisheries Organising Project conference taking place in Dakar, Senegal to see what steps can be taken to combat the activities of bogus recruitment agents in Ghana who have been responsible for the trafficking of fishers to Ireland, North and South, in recent years and to disseminate information to fishing communities in Ghana about the pitfalls and dangers of coming to work in Ireland for exploitative employers.



    • A copy of the Maynooth University Department of Law repot can be downloaded here
    • The ITF’s Michael O’Brien will address the Irish Parliament's Oireachtas Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Employment about some of the matters above tomorrow Wednesday 20th October at 9:30am. A copy of the statement he has submitted to the Oireachtas Committee in advance of his appearance is available on request
    • Migrant fishers are available for interview, though potentially on an anonymised basis. Contact the IUTF.

    About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice for nearly 20 million working women and men in the transport industry across the world.

    Media contact:          Michael O’Brien          o'brien_michael[at]   +353872400331