27 April 2023

Identifying Best Practices for the Protection of Migrant Fishermen in the Philippines

Representatives from IOJI held meetings with officials and representatives of labor organizations in the Philippines in mid-April.

On April 19, 2023, IOJI representatives met with Philippine officials and labor organizations in Manila, the capital of the country. Together, they identified the best practices for protecting migrant fishermen in the Philippines.

During this series of meetings, IOJI representatives had the opportunity to engage in discussions with representatives from Verité, an independent organization advocating for labor equality and the eradication of modern slavery practices. 

In October 2021, Verité published a study titled “Recruitment and Employment Experiences of Filipino Migrant Fishers in Taiwan’s Tuna Fishing Sector: An Exploratory Study.”

Through this study, Verité found that Filipinos constituted the second-largest migrant population in Taiwan’s distant water fishing sector. Verité documented the labor conditions and risks faced by Filipino migrant fishermen on Taiwanese-flagged vessels since the early 2000s.

Verité’s previous research indicated that many Filipino fishermen were undocumented, recruited through informal channels, and vulnerable to forced labor and other forms of exploitation.

In recent years, based on Verité’s experiences and discussions with civil society organizations working with the Filipino fishing population, it appears that more Filipinos are being recruited through formal channels (possibly due in part to government and industry efforts).

However, while the Philippine government has made significant efforts to regulate the recruitment industry, and responsible recruitment policies have served as a model for other governments, Verité found evidence that Filipino migrants continue to face serious risks during the recruitment process.

Recognizing the complexity and intersecting risks faced by Filipino migrant fishermen, Verité conducted qualitative research from January 2018 to January 2020 to assess the legal and actual processes experienced by migrant workers recruited to work on Taiwanese fishing vessels, as well as the working conditions they experience.

The field research explored intermediary labor recruitment practices in both the Philippines and Taiwan, including private recruitment or “supervising” agents, and investigated how gaps in regulatory frameworks contribute to the working conditions experienced by Filipino migrant fishermen in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, in March 2020, the Scalabrini Migration Center (SMC), based in Quezon City, Philippines, published a study titled “Out at Sea, Out of Sight: Filipino, Indonesian and Vietnamese Fishermen on Taiwanese Fishing Vessels.”

The study addressed issues faced by migrant fishermen due to the oversight of two government agencies—the Ministry of Labor (MOL) for those working in Taiwan’s inland waters, and the Fisheries Agency (FA) for those working on Taiwanese vessels in distant fishing waters.

This division has created two protection regimes: those under MOL are covered by the Labor Standards Act, while those working in distant waters are not listed as fishermen (deep-sea fishing vessels are not considered extensions of Taiwan’s territory). FA is responsible for Taiwan’s fisheries and, as per its mandate, lacks jurisdiction over labor matters.

SMC recommended that the three countries of origin for the migrant fishing workforce improve awareness of their citizens’ conditions while working at sea. SMC also encouraged these countries to enhance training and preparation for their migrant workers, thereby strengthening their economic and cultural capacity in Taiwan.

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