Human rights groups call for action against abuse of migrant fishermen

Taipei, A newly formed alliance of human rights groups called on President Tsai Ing-wen (???) Thursday to take action to address the long-existing problem of abuse of migrant fishermen employed in Taiwan’s fishing industry.

At a protest in the square in front of the Presidential Office, the protesters held a banner that read, “Put an end to abuses against foreign fishermen. Outlaw the offshore hiring system.”

The groups said that while Tsai has been advancing her administration’s New Southbound Policy, she has been dismissive of the lack of legal protections for migrant fishermen, who are mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines, two of the main countries targeted in the policy.

The efforts to enhance Taiwan’s ties with the countries listed in the New Southbound Policy should begin with improving the working conditions and labor rights of the nearly 700,000 migrant workers from the region, said Shih Yi-hsiang (???), vice secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

At a press conference at the nearby Green Peace office after the protest, the members of the alliance called for an end to the offshore hiring system, through which foreign crew members are hired by brokers in their home countries to work on Taiwan’s deep sea fishing fleets.

Foreign crew members hired offshore are not covered by Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act and are often subjected to wage exploitation, physical mistreatment and other forms of abuses, said Chuang Shu-ching (???) of the Taiwan International Workers’ Association.

The offshore hiring system, which was allowed under the Act for Distant Water Fisheries, should be abolished and the Ministry of Labor, instead of the Fisheries Agency, should be responsible for matters relating to the employment of migrant workers on deep sea fishing fleets, Chuang said.

Abuse of migrant fishermen has long been an issue on Taiwan’s human rights record, but it was not until the European Commission in October 2015 issued a “yellow card” against Taiwan for insufficient cooperation in combating illegal fishing did the Fisheries Agency promulgate a regulation governing offshore recruitment of fishery workers at sea.

The regulation, which took effect in January 2017, stipulates a monthly minimum wage of US$450, but the groups said that in practice, it is impossible to enforce that requirement and they called for an effective oversight mechanism to hold non-compliant brokers and employers accountable.

Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union Secretary-General Allison Lee (???), who last month visited an Indonesian village that is the source of many workers in Taiwan’s fishing industry, displayed what she said was a fisherman’s pay sheet that showed he had been receiving less than the minimum US$450 per month stipulated in the regulation.

The fisherman was employed on a two-year contract with a total value of US$7,921, which works out to US$330 per month, Lee said, citing the document. After deductions by his broker, the fisherman would receive a total of only US$4,201 over the two-year period, Lee said.

The alliance of human rights groups, which was formed Thursday, also demanded that the government enact a law on the protection of migrant fishermen, in line with the International Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention 188, which establishes minimum requirements for work onboard ships.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel