Four United Nations (UN) experts said that Ireland’s Atypical Work Scheme (AWS) introduced for non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals in the fishing industry breaches the human rights of migrant workers.

Special rapporteurs mentioned in a letter to the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan that the 2016 scheme may be failing to avoid modern slavery.

They criticised the scheme governing protection and labour rights for migrant fishermen.

AWS, which has been designed for the non-EEA crew, allows migrant fishermen to be granted permission to live in the country and work on certain types of vessels.

In order to obtain a work permit through the AWS, workers are required to fill in an application that comprises a series of steps, including the certification of an employment contract by a solicitor and the registration of the contract with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM) Central Depository for Sea-Fishing Boats.

Upon securing approval, workers should submit a separate application to the Department of Justice for immigration permission.

Officials wrote in their letter that migrants who could not convince their employers to apply for the AWS were left with no choice but to remain undocumented.

“The Department of Justice and Equality said it would have a serious look into the concerns raised in the letter.”

They said: “We wish to express our concern that the AWS, as currently framed, does not provide for effectively preventing and combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of forced labour and labour exploitation in the fishing industry, nor does it provide for adequate protection of the rights of migrant fishermen.”

Responding to the letter, the Department of Justice and Equality said it would have a serious look into the concerns raised in the letter.

Migrant workers get a legal route to work on Irish fishing vessels through the AWS.

According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the scheme would only exacerbate the problem of systemic exploitation of foreign workers in the country’s fishing industry.

ITF UK and Ireland co-ordinator Ken Fleming said: “The UN joins the US State Department and the Council of Europe in this deafening chorus of criticism of the AWS.”