Migrant workers in the fishing industry protest

RIGHTS FOR ALL::Deckhands hired by Taiwanese fishing boat owners protest proposals limiting their access to mandatory insurance

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Fri, May 30, 2014 - Page 4

Rights advocates and foreign deckhands hired by Taiwanese fishing boats yesterday demonstrated outside the Legislative Yuan, protesting a proposed amendment to the Fisheries Act (漁業法) that would exclude foreign deckhands from being covered by mandatory social insurance, such as labor insurance and the National Health Insurance.

“It’s not acceptable that foreign deckhands are treated like this just because they are not Taiwanese… Even though they are not entitled to the right to vote, they should enjoy the same degree of protection for their fundamental rights,” Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA) policy researcher Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) said outside the legislature.

Rights advocates and foreign workers on the scene cheered in response and chanted in their own languages “No commercial insurance” and “We need social insurance.”

The controversy came as Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Pan Meng-an (潘孟安) proposed an amendment to the Fisheries Act that would allow foreign deckhands to choose between social insurance or commercial insurance, leading them to worry that they would end up having no insurance at all.

“Working on fishing boats is dangerous. It’s very easy to get hurt when working at sea, we risk our lives every day... If we don’t have any insurance, what do we do if we get injured at work? How do our families live on, if we die on the job?” a Filipino deckhand named Noel said.

“Please remember that we’re not only working to make a living, we’re also working to help our Taiwanese employers,” he added.

A representative of the Migrant Empowerment Network Taiwan, Wang Ying-dah (汪英達), said that laborers are the disadvantaged in society.

However, foreign workers are even more disadvantaged, and as a basic protection for disadvantaged groups, social insurance should never be taken from them.

“Pan used to show a lot of concern about labor rights, I’m disappointed that he’s not pushing for an amendment to please voters as he’s running for Pingtung County commissioner at the expense of foreign deckhands,” Wang said.

“I would also like to warn the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] — you are the accomplices if the amendment is passed,” he added.

Another TIWA researcher, Wu Ching-ju (吳靜如), said Pan said that he consulted employers, manpower agencies and insurance companies before making the proposal.

“But what about those foreign deckhands?” Pan asked

Wu added she understands that many fishing boat owners are also not wealthy.

However there are other ways of having foreign deckhands covered by social insurance — such as having the fishermen’s associations help pay the premium rather than having their employers to do it.

“Pan’s amendment may be the easiest, but is also the worst solution,” she said.

Responding to the protest, Pan denied that his amendment proposal would leave foreign sailors without insurance.

“Many foreign deckhands are complaining about insurance deductions from their salaries, especially when many don’t always have the chance to see a doctor when needed, since sometimes they are at sea for weeks or even months,” Pan said.

“My proposal for an amendment is therefore giving them a choice between social insurance and commercial insurance, and they may be able to save some money as commercial insurance companies can provide more options,” he added.