Non-European Union workers in the fishing industry here experience racist insults, verbal abuse and extremely long working hours, according to a study by Maynooth University.

Academics in the Department of Law assessed the current working conditions, immigration status and experiences of enforcement of non-European Economic Area (EEA) workers in the Irish fishing fleet.

One of the factors they examined was the Atypical Working Scheme (AWS) for non-EEA crew.

This sought to formalise and regularise workers' immigration and employment status when it was introduced in 2016.

The AWS was one of a serious of regulatory and policy efforts to address the issue of risks of exploitation in the industry and introduced to protect non-European workers in the fishing industry in Ireland.

The study warns the scheme can be used by employers "as a means to threaten and exploit workers" and conditions had become "worse" under it.

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITWF), which funded the study by Maynooth University, says the Stamp 1 scheme that comes with the AWS and ties the worker to the boat owner does not work.

ITWF spokesperson Michael O'Brien says there are "hundreds" of undocumented fishermen, many of whom entered the atypical scheme initially.

"Whether through injury or through some acrimonious bust-up with the employer, that employment ends and they are operating in the system, kind of, odd-jobbing from boat to boat in an undocumented fashion and they're really, really vulnerable".

"Ali" - a former fisherman - had a negative experience in the industry

"Ali" is a former fisherman. In his home country, his father was a skipper, so he grew up in the industry and came to Ireland in his late teens for a better life.

His experience of fishing in Ireland is not positive.

"You work so hard and then you get no money. You get no rest. It was like, somebody catches you and says if you want to see your family, you have to do just what I want, just what I need. We were scared, now I understand a little bit better but then, I don't understand".

Currently, there are 230 permissions specifically for migrant fishers outside of the EU in the Irish fishing industry.

Dr Cliodhna Murphy, an Associate Professor in Law at Maynooth University, is one of the authors of the study which includes interviews with 24 fishermen working in the sector.

The authors found the fishermen were working extremely long working hours, with few breaks and very low wages, sometimes below minimum wage were the main issues vocalised by those interviewed.

Dr Cliodhna Murphy, one of the study's authors

Dr Murphy acknowledges that inspections and policy changes have improved the industry.

However, the study suggests that the Workplace Relations Commission and the Marine Survey Office of the Department of Transport should perform more outreach work and speak directly to migrant fishers in private.

It also says Inspectors monitoring workplace conditions should be accompanied by trained interpreters when interviewing migrant crew and undocumented migrant fishers should be facilitated in accessing the Department of Justice's planned regularisation scheme.

It suggests allowing applications to vary Stamp 1 to Stamp 4 permission (in accordance with Section 4 (7) of the Immigration Act) and expedite the consideration of such applications for variations of permission.

For their part, trawler owners dispute the findings of the report.

Patrick Murphy, of the Irish South and West Fish Producer's Organisation, says it does not make sense for trawler owners not to treat the workers correctly.

"There has to be safeguards for the boat owner. It's a dangerous environment", he says.

When it comes to the atypical scheme introduced in 2016, Mr Murphy says he and his colleagues have been telling the Government for years that it is not fit for purpose.

He points out that fish producers have drawn up their legal documents based on the International Convention for Working Rights for Fishers but that the Government has not signed up to that.

Mr Murphy points out that the jobs of the men who came to Ireland to earn money for their families are now in jeopardy because the biggest abuse in recent years is that he and his colleagues have been "robbed" of 20% of their fish in this country.

"We've 165 boats and a report has come out recently that 60 are about to go and 100 are going to be left". he says, adding that more jobs will go with the reduction in boats.

Govt agrees to review working scheme

In response to the report, the Department of Justice says that Minister James Browne, who has responsibility for law reform, has discussed the Atypical Working Scheme with Minister Charlie McConalogue and Minister Damien English, and they have agreed to a review of the scheme being carried out.

Officials from the three departments met recently to discuss the review and will meet again shortly to take this work forward.

The report by Maynooth University, when published, will be considered by the Cross-Departmental Oversight Committee set up to monitor the implementation of the AWS.

The department notes that the Programme for Government contains a commitment to bring forward a regularisation scheme within 18 months of the formation of the Government, to create new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependents.

The eligibility criteria for the scheme are being finalised and will be submitted to Government for its approval, the statement adds.