New Irish permit scheme for migrant fishery workers due in coming weeks

A fishing vessel off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland
Ireland is planning to replace an earlier foreign worker permitting program which was scrapped in 2022 | Photo courtesy of Stephen Power/Shutterstock
4 Min

Ireland is planning to introduce a new permitting program for foreign fishery workers in the coming weeks, replacing a troubled earlier scheme which campaigners claimed allowed for abuse of migrants.

Ireland’s atypical work permit (ATS) scheme was introduced in 2016, but was scrapped in 2022 after allegations of abuse of foreign crew surfaced.

The new permit will be required for workers in Ireland’s fishing sector originating from outside the European Economic Area, a bloc that includes the European Union.

“The occupation of sea-fisher will be made eligible for the General Employment Permit (GEP) in the coming weeks, with the relevant statutory instrument to underpin this currently under development,” A spokesperson from the Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment told SeafoodSource.

The spokesperson said access to the GEP will be granted via a quota made available to the sector. The occupation will be subject to a range of criteria, including the standard GEP minimum annual remuneration of EUR 34,000 (USD 36,720), based on a minimum EUR 16.77 (USD 18.06) hourly rate and a 39-hour week, according to the spokesperson. Irish authorities set the EUR 34,000 minimum salary for foreign workers employed on Irish fishing vessels in March 2024.

Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO) Chief Executive Aodh O’Donnell said his organization “fully supports initiatives or proposals that ensure fishers are fairly and properly covered under Irish employment legislation.” He described the new permit scheme as a “bottom-up industry-led initiative.”

“We have waited for some years for the requisite changes to the legislation,” he said.

O’Donnell said the IFPO “appreciates the engagement with Irish government departments on this issue which “was aimed at delivering a fair scheme”. O’Donnell said one issue that was raised was the “need for the scheme to dovetail with a workable traditional ‘share fishing’ arrangement.”

Campaigners for workers’ rights are calling for an amnesty period to allow migrants to regularize their statuses as the transition to the new program commences.

“Fishers who have been illegally engaged by vessel owners – by various means – since the abolition of the atypical scheme are in a precarious situation,” Michael O’Brien, campaign director at the Dublin offices of the International Transport Workers Federation, told SeafoodSource.

O’Brien said the ITWF has not heard back about an inquiry it made about whether undocumented workers could be regularized in a similar manner to what occurred during the earlier adoption of the atypical scheme.

“We got a response which suggested that individual cases be submitted to the Department of Justice and a hint that they would be dealt with sympathetically,” O’Brien said.

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