ILO Work in Fishing Convention No.188 enter into force / by Francisco Blaha

I wrote about ILO Convention 118 before, in the context of the Pacific. Now it came into force on November 16, consolidating the efforts to improve working conditions for millions of workers in the fishing sector. The Work in Fishing Convention sets the basic standards of decent work in the fishing industry... But from what I see on daily basis on my work in many ports, we still have a long way to go.

  Brother... I wish your boat's Flag State labour rules were as cool and hardworking as your are

Brother... I wish your boat's Flag State labour rules were as cool and hardworking as your are

Over 38 million people work in capture fisheries, which is considered to be one of the world’s most hazardous occupations. Hundreds of millions of dependents and others depend on the sector for their livelihoods.

Though many fishing vessel owners treat their crews well, there are two dimensions to the challenge faced by fishers:

Firstly is the job itself, as it is with no doubt, the most dangerous job in the world, due to weather, seasonality and the generally hazardous nature of working in the marine environment. Add to that informal work practices and lack of a culture of safety and the results are to be bad. And while this culture of safety is changing, the change is mostly in the rich countries. Tor the rest, well… when you earn very little, you have very little to lose, hence to take massive risks and don't complain.

And secondly are the cases of forced labour, human trafficking and the exploitation of migrant labour in fishing worldwide. Laws and regulation protecting fishers are often non-existent or unclear. Or fall in the traps that at the end of the day, a vessel is an extension of the Flag state, hence they are to be responsible. But we know they are not, furthermore as a fisheries office you have no mandate to get into labor issues but then, the labor bodies (if existent) in many port or coastal states, don't see as their responsibility (or have no powers) to act on anything that does not affect their local mandate… so from any angle, is a quite complex and unfortunately difficult area.

I said before many times, that for me the real race to the bottom in fisheries is on the crew side… and I see it EVERY day on ports worldwide, the DWFN and many flag states fleets to maximize their profits (since they are fishing at loss) employ crew from more and more desperate background and nationalities, paying then very little money while sucking on their own countries subsidies. Is quite pathetic really.

  Welcome to your private space for the next year. This is the standard sleeping area shared by the 10 crew (and sometimes a Pacific Islands observer) in a Taiwanese or Chinese longliner fishing in the Pacific. Of course, the crew sleeping here are not from the flag state nationality... in most cases they are Indonesians, Vietnamese and sometimes Nepalese. 

Welcome to your private space for the next year. This is the standard sleeping area shared by the 10 crew (and sometimes a Pacific Islands observer) in a Taiwanese or Chinese longliner fishing in the Pacific. Of course, the crew sleeping here are not from the flag state nationality... in most cases they are Indonesians, Vietnamese and sometimes Nepalese. 

In any case Convention No. 188 sets out binding requirements to address the main issues concerning work on board fishing vessels, including occupational safety and health and medical care at sea and ashore, rest periods, written work agreements, and social security protection at the same level as other workers. It aims to ensure that fishing vessels are constructed and maintained so that fishers have decent living conditions on board.

The Convention helps prevent unacceptable forms of work for all fishers, especially migrant fishers. It provides for regulation of the recruitment process and investigation of complaints by fishers, and hopefully in this way prevent forced labour, trafficking and other abuses.

States ratifying Convention No. 188 commit to exercising control over fishing vessels, through inspection, reporting, monitoring, complaint procedures, penalties and corrective measures, and may then also inspect foreign fishing vessels visiting their ports and take appropriate action.

And that last issue is important, because as in the case of PSMA, give us some tools to act over foreign vessels in the ports of a signatory party to the agreement.

And while all this is good news… the unfortunate reality is that only 10 (out of 187!!) members of the ILO have ratified C188 to date. The countries are Lithuania, Estonia, France, Angola, Argentina (strong union), Bosnia and Herzegovina (almost no commercial fishing there!), Congo, Morocco, Norway and South Africa… so none of the ones that fish in Asia and the Pacific has done and I doubt will do.

Ratification of an ILO Convention is an important commitment. Once ratified, a State must periodically report to the ILO how that convention is being implemented through laws, regulations or other measures. The ILO’s system for the supervision of standards reviews these reports and will guide the State towards full compliance. It is therefore essential that all States involved in the fishing sector ratify Convention No. 188 and make this commitment.

The Convention is supplemented by the accompanying Work in Fishing Recommendation (No. 199)  as well as two sets of Guidelines for flag States and port States carrying out inspections under the Convention.

L1100913.jpg

These were all developed through discussions among representatives of governments and fishing vessel owner and fishers representative organizations. Recognizing the great differences among States and fishing vessel operations, the Convention provides for some flexibility in its implementation – but only after tripartite consultation at the national level.

So yes… good news, but with only 10 countries playing on it, what real impacts can it provide? Yet... I think we could come up with a "Work in Fishing CMM" proposal, based in C188 and pushed by some responsible members in the different RFMOS, then work the "name and shame" game with ones opposing it so they could slowly come into it.

Such strategy worked this year for PSM in the recent WCPFC… so there is a precedent.