24 organizations urge SE Asian countries to ratify a key convention aimed at protecting migrant fishermen
Activists from the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union hold a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Jakarta on Dec. 27, 2020, to demand an investigation into the death of Indonesian fishermen working on a Chinese fishing vessel. (Photo supplied)
More than 20 advocacy organizations, including a church group, have called on Southeast Asian countries to work together to end the enslavement of migrant fishermen by ratifying an important international convention.
Stella Maris Manila, a church-run organization that provides care for migrants, seafarers and refugees, was among 24 civil organizations calling on Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 188.
It is the most comprehensive convention on the protection of rights and working conditions of migrant fishermen, the organizations said.
They made the call as they submitted a report on the convention to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on Sept. 28.
In it they said ASEAN countries have failed to provide protection for migrants working on foreign ships and had not coordinated well to resolve the problem.
Father Paulo Prigol, the Stella Maris Manila chaplain and director of the Scalabrini Center for People on the Move, said the briefing paper clearly shows the organizations’ commitment to helping provide solutions to end forced labor and human trafficking at sea.
If they unite, it will be easier to influence recruiting countries to follow ASEAN standards
“We … look forward to the implementation of the provisions of the convention, to justice being served to victims, and an end to the horrible crimes committed against hard-working seafarers and fisherfolks,” he said in a statement.
Thailand is the only ASEAN member to have ratified the convention so far.
The civil organizations said that with ratification other ASEAN member states would be “expected to enhance efforts on developing pathways for safe and ethical recruitment and grievance mechanisms to address abuses or accidents that occur on board foreign fishing vessels.
The groups also demanded a more active role for the ASEAN Committee for Migrant Workers, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and the ASEAN High Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime.
“The increasing number of reported cases of unethical recruitment, poor working conditions and tragic deaths of Southeast Asian migrant fishers on distant water fishing vessels over the years has fueled growing concern over forced labor and human trafficking in the fishing industry,” said Annisa Erou, one of the report co-authors from Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Scalabrinian Father Ansensius Guntur, director of the Stella Maris Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, underlined the importance of ASEAN countries showing a joint commitment to cleaning up the fishing industry as they are the main source of migrant fishers.
“If they unite, it will be easier to influence recruiting countries to follow ASEAN standards. ASEAN countries will have high bargaining power to demand good treatment for migrant fishers," he said.
He said it is important that NGO advocacy continues as it has been proven to encourage recruiting countries such as Taiwan to evaluate themselves.
This showed the Taiwanese government's determination to improve its fishery sector and its openness to input from NGOs
Father Guntur told UCA News that he was recently asked by Taiwanese authorities to evaluate 56 migrant fisher recruitment agencies, of which 20 got As, 28 got Bs, 3 got Cs and 3 got Ds.
“Of those who got a D, one was barred from recruiting foreign crew members for a year and the other two were shut down. This showed the Taiwanese government's determination to improve its fishery sector and its openness to input from NGOs," he said
ASEAN countries provide most of the migrant fishers who work on Taiwanese and Chinese-owned vessels.
In a report titled "Forced Labor at Sea: The Case of Indonesian Migrant Fishers" released in May by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union, there were 62 reported cases of forced labor between May 2019 and June 2020, a sharp rise on the 34 reported between December 2018 and July 2019.
The report noted four main complaints — deception, withholding of wages, excessive overtime and physical and sexual abuse.
Share your comments