Mon, Apr 16, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Film highlights abuses of migrant fishermen

‘Exploitation and Lawlessness’ explores the human costs of Taiwan’s fishing industry

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing reporter

“More than willful, it’s intentional,” he says via e-mail from one of his organization’s shelters in Taoyuan.

“In a modern bureaucracy like the Fisheries Agency, it is hard to believe there is no legal department which knows, or at least has the capacity to understand, the relevant labor laws or even international core labor standards. It’s just because they are mainly concerned with the profits in the fishing industry.”

Daniel Lin (林耀明) agrees that progress when it comes to enacting laws that would protect migrant fishermen has been staid. Lin, Acting Director of The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan Seamen and Fishermen’s Service Center, an NGO in Kaohsiung that provides aid to migrant fishermen who have been abused, serves as a mediator in labor disputes involving migrant fishermen, and offers emergency services to migrant fishermen and their families.

“The current laws and regulations are not enough for protecting migrant fishermen,” says Lin via e-mail. “There is lack of complementary measures or supporting programs, and thus relevant laws and regulations are not able to be implemented.”

PROTECTING MIGRANT WORKERS

As for what needs to be done to bring migrant fishermen under adequate legal protection from abuse or exploitation, the list is daunting, says Wong.

Among things he and the SPA would like to see done include changing the government branch overseeing migrant fishermen from the Fisheries Agency back to the organization that was in charge before, the Ministry of Labor — an office better suited to dealing with workers’ rights, Wong says.

Furthermore, the SPA advocates covering all offshore fishermen under the Labor Standards Act, the blanket system of labor laws for workers in Taiwan which does not yet include migrant fishermen recruited abroad who work in the long-distance fleet.

By Wong’s estimation, enacting these and other measures will take a “very, very long” time.

“The whole legal and administrative system on migrant workers is fascist and racist,” he says.

“Migrant workers are not really taken as human beings. Their needs are ignored. Their labor rights are severely oppressed and controlled. We need to work with the migrants to organize and let them be heard until the whole society knows that they can’t be ignored.”

As for Schmid, he would like to see Taiwan ratify the stipulations outlined in the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 188 (C188), a long and comprehensive document that details the myriad ways in which conditions for migrant fishermen employed around the world must be improved.

“C188 would raise protections for workers in terms of safety and conditions on vessels and security and conditions in their contracts,” Schmid says.

“The measures of C188 and other Taiwanese laws must be rigorously applied, with regular inspections of vessels, rapid follow-up of any complaints raised by workers and the prosecution of human traffickers in a timely manner, with punishments befitting the seriousness of the crime.”

At present, only longtime activists and Democratic Progressive Party legislators Lin Shu-Fen (林淑芬) and Chen Man-Li (陳曼麗) are actively working on protecting migrant fishermen, Lin says. In order for more progress to be made, he maintains, a greater sector of the population at large will have to lend their support and give voice to the issue.

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