13 April 2023

Important Lessons from the Abandonment of Indonesian Migrant Fishers

It is time for fishermen’s unions, migrant communities, non-governmental organizations, and civil society to urge the Indonesian government and the international community to enforce conventions and laws that guarantee the protection of the rights of migrant fishing vessel (MFV) crew members.

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest sources of labor, including MFV crew members employed in Distant Water Fishing (DWF) on foreign-flagged vessels. Despite their significant contribution to the economy, it was only in 2017 that they were recognized as migrant workers.

Indonesian migrant crew members often experience exploitation and mistreatment, such as unpredictable working hours, unfair labor practices, lack of communication, and, when they are out at sea, isolation. These issues can lead to mental health problems and even death.

Despite calls to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention or C188 and implement laws to protect the rights of migrant MFV crew members, Indonesian bureaucrats often engage in conflicting opinions. This condition has the potential to slow down the strengthening of protections for migrant MFV crew members.

Reflections from the Open Sea

Collaborating on the article “The Precarity at Sea: Lessons from Indonesian Migrant Fishers,” Pamungkas A. Dewanto, Jeremia Humolong Prasetya, and Fadilla Octaviani aim to emphasize the importance of protecting the rights of migrant MFV crew members. This way, no more unfortunate fates like that of Wanto’s will occur.

Wanto was a migrant MFV crew member from Pemalang, Central Java. He accidentally fell off the vessel he had been working on for two weeks off the coast near Spanish waters.

Three weeks prior, Wanto had spoken to the three authors. He recounted his harrowing experience as a fisherman on a 200-ton vessel sailing to the Indian Ocean near Mauritius, on a Chinese-flagged fishing vessel.

For two years, Wanto did not set foot on land, nor did he communicate with his family or friends back home due to limited communication facilities. After two years, Wanto finally returned home, hoping to enjoy the wages he had earned over those two years.

However, even until his passing, Wanto did not receive the fair wages he was entitled to, nor did his family who he left behind. The labor agency that recruited him had permanently closed due to the pandemic in 2020.

He lost all the wages he should have received over two years and did not know how to reclaim them, leading to family problems. As a result of two years of “isolation” and free labor, his mental state became unstable and vulnerable.

How do the three authors reflect on this case? Read the full article here.

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