A migrant workers union composed of 89 Philippine fishermen was founded on Saturday in Yilan County, the first such organization in the country, which employs nearly 88,000 workers from the Philippines.
The Yilan County Fishermen’s Trade Union was formed with the aim of helping Philippine fishermen make their voices heard.
The union has registered with Yilan County’s Department of Labor Affairs, said Lee Lee-huan (李麗華), a Taiwanese human rights worker who helped the fishermen set up the organization.
At a ceremony at a Catholic church in Suao (蘇澳) to mark the launch of the union, its leaders and members observed three minutes of silence for Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), who was shot dead on May 9 by Philippine Coast Guard personnel while fishing in waters where the two countries’ exclusive economic zones overlap.
Lee, who spent 18 months helping the migrants set up the labor union, said that an amendment to the Labor Union Act (工會法) on May 1, 2011 allowed foreign labor unions to elect a board of directors and supervisors.
Previously, migrant workers were not allowed to organize their own labor unions, and were only permitted to join existing organizations. There are about 6,600 foreigners who work on Taiwanese fishing boats.
Most are Indonesians and Filipinos. They represent 2 percent of the migrant workers in Taiwan.
Lee said that the union has elected its directors and leaders and that it plans to seek fishermen from other countries to join the organization in the future.
Union president Alfredo Cataluna, who has worked for Taiwanese employers for eight years, said that he originally thought Taiwan would send Philippine workers back home after the shooting incident, but that had not happened.
Several union members said that they had been worried the timing was too sensitive to set up the union, but fortunately, their employers have continued to treat them in a friendly manner. They added that they hope the two countries will soon settle the dispute over the Hung’s death.