Seanad Commencement Matter
"The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to discuss the need for improvements to the operation of the permit scheme for non-EEA fishermen" - Senator Ged Nash
Response by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten TD
08 February 2017
"I would like to thank the Senator for raising this important matter and to apologise on behalf of the Tánaiste who cannot be here on this occasion.
It is now almost 18 months since the issue of the employment of non-EEA crew members in the Irish Fishing Fleet was highlighted in the media as an issue of concern. The Guardian Newspaper in particular highlighted issues, with claims of exploitation of migrant workers on Irish Fishing Trawlers.
Following these revelations, the Government moved swiftly to address the concerns and abuses highlighted through an Inter Departmental Task Force Chaired by the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, which was established in November 2015.
The Task Force, of which the Senator, in his then capacity as Minister of State for Business & Employment was an active member, met on a number of occasions and a new scheme was developed that.
- Addressed the issues of concern
- Improved the situation for non-EEA Workers
- Reduced the possibilities for abuse
- Allowed the fishing Industry to meet its labour needs
As one of the authors of the Report the Senator is aware that the Scheme only applies to crew members working on licensed and registered fishing vessels in the Polyvalent, Beamer and specific segments of the Irish Fishing Fleet for vessels more than 15 metres in length overall, being the multi-crewed, labour-intensive vessels.
The role of the Tánaiste’s Department comes, of course, at the end of a process that clears the way for a non-EEA national to be employed in a particular boat after the input of the various Departmental and statutory bodies with oversight of the sector.
The Department of Justice and Equality provides, through a special atypical working scheme for seafarers, a work permission for non EEA fishermen. This permission provides an appropriate pathway through which this category of worker can be lawfully employed in the industry.
Following this, the relevant statutory bodies responsible for implementing employment law, including employment protection, can effectively discharge their responsibilities as part of the overall regulatory regime for the employment of non-EEA workers.
The programme commenced on the 15 February 2016 and for the first 3 months applications were confined to non-EEA crew members who were already working in the Fishing Industry in Ireland. However due to the slow uptake of the scheme the Department extended the initial 3-month period from 15 May 2016 to the 30 June 2016.
The new scheme required
- the establishment of the Central Depository of Contracts, managed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to record, examine and monitor the number of Contracts in the scheme, which was to be capped at a maximum of 500.
- that a Pre Clearance System managed by the Central Depository be introduced for all applications
- the grant of an atypical working permission.
The fishing industry, like many other industries, is not immune to abuse by unscrupulous employers and therefore it is important that these overall arrangements, involving the cooperation of all stakeholders, remain a deterrent to such abuses and that they protect the employees. To that end, officials in the Department of Justice & Equality have worked with others within the industry to ensure compliance and where issues arise that they are dealt with by the appropriate authorities.
I would conclude by adding that officials from the Department of Justice & Equality have contacted their counterparts in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation with a view to meeting to assess the overall operation of the scheme to date.