Commercial fishing boat owners in Taiwan, one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, face strict rules and potential fines under a new law aimed at preventing overfishing and protecting migrant crew members who work at sea with little oversight.
The Act Governing Distant Water Fisheries (遠洋漁業條例), which takes effect on Jan. 15 next year, comes amid growing pressure on the nation’s seafood industry to crack down on modern-day slavery and other abuses of the more than 20,000 migrants working on the nation’s fleet of fishing vessels.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Frances Lee (李宗芬) said new requirements for migrant workers include insurance, healthcare, wages, working hours and human rights.
Last year, the EU gave Taiwan a “yellow card” for failing to control illegal fishing on its commercial vessels, which sail around the world and catch about US$2 billion of tuna and other seafood every year.
Without improvements, the nation’s US$14 million of seafood exports to the EU could face sanctions.
The US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report this year said that while Taiwan has cracked down on forced labor and sex trafficking, fishing vessels need more attention.
The report said fishermen mostly from Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam have been fraudulently recruited to work on Taiwan-flagged vessels, where they can face abuses including violence, limited food supplies and withheld wages.
The issues extend well beyond Taiwan.
Commercial fishing boat owners around the world, including in the US, recruit foreign crews for the dangerous and exhausting work of hauling in the catch. The migrant fishermen are vulnerable to human trafficking and other exploitation because the work takes place so remotely, far from police or labor officials, and they can remain offshore for years as their catch is shuttled in to port.
Several nonprofit advocacy groups, including Greenpeace and the International Labour Organization, have repeatedly raised concerns about working conditions for foreign crews in Taiwan’s fishing fleet.
Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union secretary-general Lee Li-hua (李麗華) said men have been beaten, overworked and denied pay.
“The captain or first officers will use violence, like hitting their heads, kicking or punching their stomachs,” she said.
Migrant workers hired for Taiwanese vessels often report working all but one or two of every 24 hours at a time, Service Center and Shelter for Migrant Workers in Taiwan director Wong Ying-dah (汪英達) said.
They might also sleep in crowded quarters with other migrants and eat just one meal a day, despite paying up front for three, he said.
“Some don’t even have a bed,” Wong said.
Some workers sign multiple contracts, sometimes without knowing what is in them, and inadvertently agree to reductions in wages, activists said.
London-based Environmental Justice Foundation executive director Steve Trent said Taiwan’s domestic and distant-water fleets already circumvent the existing labor laws and that more needs to be done.
“Taiwan needs to develop a far deeper, more rigorous, victim-centered inspection regime on its domestic and distant-water fleet if it is to have any serious intention of bringing working conditions up to basic international standards,” Trent said.
Phil Robertson at Human Rights Watch in Bangkok said passing the law is an important first step in providing protections, but resources would be needed to give it teeth.
“The real difficulty is implementation, not only in court, but in the high seas,” Robertson said.
Advocates say they hear dozens of complaints from fishermen each year, but Fisheries Agency Deep Sea Fisheries Division Director Lin Ding-rong (林頂榮) said his agency gets only two reports per year of abuse of migrants.
Nonetheless, he acknowledged there are problems on some boats and insufficient government oversight.
“There are some tense moments on the boats and labor rights can be a problem,” Lin said. “The captains are looking for ways to improve rights, but this sweat-blood-seafood problem, is it a common situation or just a few isolated cases?”
The new law, ratified in July, requires that foreign crew members be hired through registered agents with contracts that specify their rights. Violators who hire foreign crew members without using authorized agents face fines of up to US$600,000 and boat owners who abuse their workers could lose their licenses for a year.
The law also lays out specific rules to conserve marine fisheries and curb illegal fishing.
THE CHINA CONNECTION: As Beijing’s aggression increases, so does Taiwanese consciousness, making a new constitution imperative, Hsu Wei-chun said If the nation is to ratify a new constitution, it must first end any illusions about the current document’s relevance to Taiwan, an academic told a forum in Taipei yesterday. For the constitutional revisionist movement to succeed, it needs public enthusiasm, the right timing and a clear plan of action, Chung Yuan Christian University associate professor Hsu Wei-chun (徐偉群) told attendees at the event titled “Imagining a New Constitution for a New Era,” which was organized by the National Taiwan University Graduate Student Association. The Constitution exists under the “one China” framework and has little relevance to Taiwan, Hsu said, adding that
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday urged Beijing to respect the median line of the Taiwan Strait by immediately stopping its military intimidation of Taiwan, as such actions would only hurt the feelings of Taiwanese. Beijing should immediately stop making military provocations against Taiwan, Ma wrote on Facebook after Chinese warplanes in the past week have made numerous forays across the median line that divides the Taiwan Strait. Although it has never officially acknowledged the median line, Beijing used to respect it, Ma said in response to comments on Monday by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌), who said
IDENTITY: The time is right to press on with a referendum, as the nation has heightened visibility and support in the global community, the Taiwan United Nations Alliance said The Taiwan United Nations Alliance yesterday said that it is considering launching a petition for a referendum proposal to have the nation join the UN under the name “Taiwan.” Alliance chairman Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲) was joined at a news conference in Taipei by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Hsiu-fang (黃秀芳) and leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and civic organizations. They said that it is the right time for a petition because Taiwan’s visibility on the world stage has increased, as it has been praised for its success in containing its COVID-19 outbreak and for helping other countries by sharing
An advertisement displayed in the corridor of the underground Taipei City Mall has caused contention online with social media users saying that it depicts Taiwanese bears as servants of Chinese pandas. The advertisement — which imitates the style of an ancient Chinese painting, but replaces people with bears — shows a scene in imperial China, with Formosan black bears laboring, while pandas relax and enjoy beverages. “The development of the tourism industry is important, but this type of targeted advertising is extremely disrespectful — and it makes people uncomfortable,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Chen E-jun (陳怡君) said. The advertisement, under