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NGOs call on Taiwan government to end abuse of migrant fishers

Migrant fishers continue to endure abuse on Taiwanese vessels because of the lack of appropriate laws, transparency and labor inspection measures, according to a joint statement issued by a group of seven NGOs.

A coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) known as "Human Rights for Migrant Fishers" is calling on the Taiwanese government to improve conditions for migrant workers on fishing vessels, who currently face human rights abuses that risk undermining the ‘New South-Bound Policy’.

The Taiwanese government has heavily promoted its New South-Bound Policy which aims to strengthen cultural and economic relationships with Southeast Asia.

However, migrant fishers – who hail mainly from the Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia and the Philippines – continue to endure abuse on Taiwanese vessels because of the lack of appropriate laws, transparency and labor inspection measures, according to a joint statement issued Thursday by a group of seven NGOs.

The members of the NGO coalition include the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Greenpeace, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan Seamen and Fishermen’s Service Center (PCTSFSC), Serve the People Association (SPA), Taiwan International Workers' Association (TIWA), the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) and the Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union (YMFU).

Because of the remote nature of fishing and the pressures arising from collapsing fish stocks, workers are vulnerable to abuse, and migrant fishers are especially at risk, said the coalition.

"With a lack of transparency in the fishing sector and no appropriate government measures in place to ensure their rights and inspect conditions, migrant fishers on Taiwanese vessels can and do fall victim to debt-bondage, forced labor, human trafficking and other serious human rights abuses," it said.

Despite the New South-Bound Policy’s aim of achieving a close cultural and economic relationship with the Southeast Asian countries, "the Taiwanese government is reluctant to provide migrant fishers with better protection and a safer work environment".

To address the situation, the Human Rights for Migrant Fishers coalition strongly recommends the government should:

  • Ratify the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention 188.
  • Apply the Labour Standards Act to all the fishers and for the Ministry of Labour to oversee workers in both Taiwanese waters and on distant water fishing vessels.
  • Invest sufficient resources to ensure labor inspections are timely and accurately conducted.
  • Provide training for prosecutors and judges to increase the prosecution and conviction of human traffickers or human right abusers.
  • Develop a complaint channel so fishers can receive help while at sea.
  • Develop a delivery plan with clear timelines to address the above measures.
  • Work with NGOs to review the process regularly.

The most recent US Trafficking in Persons Report raised concerns over Taiwan's protections for overseas fishers, specifically including problems in coordination between the Fisheries Agency and the Ministry of Labor.

The NGO coalition recommends that the Ministry of Labor should be the authority responsible for all labour affairs, working closely with the Fisheries Agency to ensure it has regular access to vessels in Taiwan and across the world.

The coalition said will publish detailed recommendations for how the government should amend the law to protect migrant fishers.

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