Late last month, foreign crewmen who work on Taiwanese fishing boats repeatedly protested a proposal to amend the Fisheries Act (漁業法), which was set to remove them from mandatory social insurances coverage, worrying the revision would further reduce what they said is already insufficient protection.
“I think everyone should enjoy the same rights whether they are locals or foreigners,” Taiwan International Workers’ Association policy researcher Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) said. “There should not be less protection offered just because they are not Taiwanese and cannot vote here.”
“Certainly, we sympathize with those Taiwanese fishing boat captains or crewmen who were killed by foreign deckhands, but if you look further into the lives of the foreign workers, you would not be surprised that such crimes happen,” Chen said.
Through an interpreter, several Indonesian workers who have worked on Taiwanese fishing vessels recounted their job conditions.
“We worked for almost 24 hours a day, with little time to rest. Sometimes we did not even have time to eat,” said Ali, an Indonesian deckhand. “We got up at 4am or 4:30am, then we would clean or repair fishing nets before fishing until about noon. Most of time we would have to work until 3pm or 4pm before we could take a break or have lunch because there were still fish around.”
Ali said that since he worked on a smaller fishing boat, he had to cook for himself, but his boss did not always provide him with enough food, even though a meal charge was deducted from his monthly salary, so he did not always have three meals a day.
Completing a day’s fishing — which is difficult to determine because they have to stop everything else whenever there is a sizeable school of fish nearby — does not mean the work day is over. The foreign crewmen have to sort the catch, help out with cooking and do whatever the captain wants them to do.
“I was always stressed at work because the captain scolded me all the time. He scolded me for not working fast enough, not knowing what to do, not doing things correctly and not understanding what he was saying,” Ali said.
Ayong and Carlos, two brothers who were both interviewed using pseudonyms, said they also could not stand being scolded all the time.
“The fishing boat we worked on catches squid and our job included catching squid and sorting the catch, because different types of squid are sold for difference prices,” said Ayong, the older brother. “The boss could always find a reason to complain about us. He scolded us all the time, and while we were not the only two in the crew, he always asked us to do everything, even when other people had nothing to do.”
Ayong said that one time, he was almost beaten by his boss.
“At the time, my brother and I were sorting squid, and the boss got mad at us, saying that we were working too slowly,” Ayong said. “So the boss grabbed a squid and tried to stick it into my mouth. I backed up, so he did not succeed in putting the squid into my mouth. He got so mad that he tried to punch me with his fist. I dodged him and other people held him back.”
“Honestly, I would have fought back, but I knew I couldn’t because he was my boss,” Ayong said.
What happened to Ayong is not an isolated case, Chen said.
“We have handled a case in which all the foreign crewmen on a boat were seriously wounded upon its return to the Port of Kaohsiung,” Chen said. “Because of the language barrier and differences in expectations for job performance, the boat’s owner and the captain would often clash with each other, whether verbally or physically. When emotions build up, it is not surprising that murders take place.”