SEAFDEC with support from the SEAFDEC-Sweden Project convened the “First Regional Technical Consultation (RTC) on Labor Aspects within the Fishing Industry in the ASEAN Region” on 25-27 February 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand, to provide a regional forum for countries to discuss the issues on labor in the fisheries sector and the way forward in addressing such issues. The RTC was officiated by the Director-General of the Department of Fisheries of Thailand Dr. Wimol Jantrarotai who is also the current Chairperson of the SEAFDEC Council, as the Guest of Honor together with the Deputy Secretary-General of SEAFDEC Mr. Hajime Kawamura. The RTC was attended by representatives from agencies responsible for fisheries of the ASEAN-SEAFDEC Member Countries; representatives from Departments of Labor (of some countries); resource persons and representatives from international and regional organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization/Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO/RAP), USAID-Oceans, International Collective on Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), EU delegation to Thailand; representatives from trade unions, private sector, civil society organizations such as the Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF), SEAFish for Justice, Nexus Institute, Cambodian Confederation of Unions, Indonesia Seafarers’ Union, Labour Rights Promotion Network, Thai Frozen Foods Associations, National Fisheries Association of Thailand, and Thai Overseas Fisheries Association among others.
Considering the importance of enhancing the competitiveness of the ASEAN fish and fishery products, the SEAFDEC Council during its 47th Meeting in 2015 requested that issues on labor in fisheries should be discussed among the Member Countries at the regional level. In response to the emerging international requirements and the recommendations of the Council, SEAFDEC convened the aforesaid RTC for countries in the region to be kept updated on international agreements/requirements in relation to labor in fisheries, and to discuss with other countries in the region on the current legal provisions and implementation guidelines of respective countries including recruitment and treatment of migrant labor. As an output, the RTC came up with recommendations on the required interventions (e.g. by SEAFDEC and others) with regards to the rights and working conditions of people engaged in the fisheries sector including those of migrant workers (domestic and foreign), to secure their decent working conditions in the spirit of the ASEAN Community.
Specifically, the RTC identified four key points that should be addressed and implemented to secure good and fair working conditions of fishworkers in the region. These are: (1) employment practices and working conditions (living conditions) at sea and in processing plants, which should build upon standards/instruments and national legal frameworks and conduct of awareness building for such laws and regulations including appropriate pre-departure training programs, allowing workers to organize labor unions/associations at national and regional levels; (2) combat illegal (IUU) fishing by improving registration/licensing of vessels, gear and people, and improving the recording of catches; (3) migration policy of the sending and receiving countries by establishing an MOU or bilateral agreements as well as improving the ability of countries to implement such MOUs and agreements; and (4) combat human trafficking by reinforcing policies, strengthening of inter-ministerial coordination and surveillance with the involvement of the private sector, trade unions, CSOs, etc.
In addition, the RTC suggested that inter-ministerial cooperation and an integrated and comprehensive approach in implementing international instruments especially the ILO Convention 188 and relevant instruments should be strengthened at national level. The RTC also suggested that ASEAN Member States (AMSs) should develop regulations or policies on labor in the fisheries sector based on the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. In this connection, the RTC recommended that the ASEAN Guidelines on Implementation of Labor Standards for Fisheries Sector should be developed in line with international standards with the involvement of relevant stakeholders through broader social dialogues in order to strengthen the roles and obligations of “receiving” countries, “sending” countries and the commitments by “ASEAN” as indicated in the “ASEAN Declaration.” SEAFDEC in collaboration with the AMSs would continue to work on these aspects and submit the recommendations to the SEAFDEC Council and ASWGFi for consideration and endorsement.