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Ratification of ILO Convention to deter Pinoys’ exploitation

It was 14 years or so ago, the International Labor Organization (ILO) was looking ways to promote decent work in the fishing industry through the implementation of a new labor instrument, the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (WIFC) No. 188.

The ILO Convention No. 188 was adopted during the 96th Session of the ILC. The labor instrument is a comprehensive code regarding fishers’ rights and the obligations of member states with respect to these rights.

Thus, the Chair of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, Raymond DC Mendoza with cross-party support from Congress has called the present administration to immediately ratify ILO Convention No. 188 to protect fishing crew on board commercial vessels, mostly Filipinos, and many are facing various abuses and exploitation including slave-like working conditions.

Nonetheless, the labor instrument got an overwhelming support from governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations around the world. But sad to note that until now, fourteen years after it was adopted only Thailand, the only country in Asia, along with 18 countries worldwide who have ratified ILO Convention No. 188.

Verily, the issue of work in fishing brings together several countries in the ASEAN region, for example, Cambodia and Myanmar migrant workers work on Thai vessels fishing in Malaysia and Indonesian waters. Countries outside the ASEAN region are also important partners, for example, Vietnamese workers work on Korean and Taiwanese (PRC) vessels and Bangladeshi workers are employed in the Thai fishing sector.

“There are 4,225,000 Filipinos employed in the fisheries industry, representing 12.5 percent of the world total. The industry sector provides jobs for some 35 million workers worldwide”, Mendoza reported.

Notably, due to severe labor shortages in the fishing industry sector, migrants from ASEAN region are sometimes deceived or coerced to work. Most workers are migrants with irregular status and therefore have limited access to grievance or complaints mechanisms, the ILO report categorically stated.

As reported, the government allegedly failed to address IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing activities amid sea disputes with other countries like China. Though the yellow card we received from EU (European Union) for inadequately addressing the IUUF was already lifted due to the passage of the new Fisheries Code, still a lot has to be done by the government.

“A ratification of the labor instrument will not only ensure protection to Filipino fishing crews onboard foreign fishing vessels but likewise provides assurance to markets of our tuna and its by-products in line with the observance of the IUU”, Mendoza explained.

Consequently, the ILO report in 2010 stated that fishing is the most hazardous occupation in many countries. Fatigue linked to long hours has been identified as a serious problem. The rate of accidents and fatalities could be quite high.

Highly appreciated is the positive approach adopted by Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) for taking the cudgel at the forefront for the protection of migrant fishers, by applying a DOLE Certification as labor inspectors for fishing vessels.

Predicated on the issue, “the government has the responsibility to ratify the labor instrument so that it would set into motion the enactment of laws and regulatory framework that will ensure protection among workers in the fishing industry and to enhance the status of the Philippine fishing industry and its markers”, Congressman Mendoza stressed.