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Commercial Fishing



New coalition demands Taiwan & Indonesia protect fishers in major migration. The historic new coalition of unions and civil society organisations launches to demand Indonesian and Taiwanese authorities protect Indonesian migrant fishers in major migration agreement. The clock is ticking as the coalition waits for Taiwan’s response to its demands

A coalition of seven labour unions in Indonesia and Taiwan representing more than 30,000 fishers in fleets in all major oceans, supported by twelve civil society organizations in both countries and globally, has been established to advocate for better standards for migrant fishers. This coalition, the Coalition for the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Fishers in Taiwanese Fishing Vessels, demands the Indonesian and Taiwanese authorities reach an agreement ensuring that the human rights and labour rights of Indonesian migrant fishers recruited to work on Taiwanese fishing vessels are respected throughout the entire migration process.

The Coalition marks the first time Taiwanese and Indonesian unions and civil society organisations have come together to advocate for migrant fishers. The members have developed a proposal to provide evidence-based input to the Indonesian and Taiwanese authorities.

“We are joining together across borders to present our demands. We’re calling on Taiwan to follow international best practices and live up to its commitment to support labour rights for all workers, including in international agreements,” said Achmad Mudzakir, Chairman of the Indonesian Seafarers Gathering Forum (FOSPI).

The Coalition is demanding fundamental labour rights and decent work, freedom of association and anti-retaliation, collective bargaining agreements, Wi-Fi, fair pay, grievance handling, and employer accountability for labour recruitment, including recruitment fees and related costs fully paid by employers. The Coalition communicated these demands to both the Taiwanese and Indonesian authorities on March 1, 2024. These demands were conveyed to the Taiwanese Fisheries Agency, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Indonesian Economic and Trade Office in Taipei, as well as to the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Jakarta.

The coalition presented the demands at a focus group discussion on the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Fishers, convened by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Indonesia on May 6, 2024. Government authorities attending this discussion were the Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesian Economic and Trade Office in Taipei, and the Indonesian Migrant Worker Protection Agency (BP2MI).

In response to the Coalition’s demands, the Indonesian authorities have agreed that the placement of sea-based migrant workers needs to be regulated in a dedicated arrangement. The Taiwanese authorities have not yet responded to the demands.

During the focus group discussion, Judha Nugraha, the Director for the Protection of Citizens Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated:

“We have taken note of and considered all the recommendations presented by Coalition. We acknowledge the complex nature of migrant fishers’ protection and commit to resume discussion with the Coalition and other stakeholders to brainstorm all relevant issues and best practices on Indonesian migrant fishers’ protection.”

“We want the Indonesian and Taiwanese authorities to develop an arrangement on migrant fishers’ protection and we want a seat at the negotiating table so we can protect the fishers who bring dinner to Taiwan’s tables,” said Syofyan, Secretary General of Indonesian Transport Workers Union (SAKTI).

Jeremia Humolong Prasetya, a researcher from Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), conveyed the importance of this multi-stakeholder focus group:

“Adding to the importance of tripartite, the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches need to guide the implementation of Indonesian migrant fishers’ protection, especially when developing arrangements with the Taiwanese authorities.”

Migrant fishers in Taiwan’s distant-water fleet, mostly hailing from Indonesia, are speaking out against the conditions they face, including forced labour, physical abuse, wage theft, death and disappearances at sea, and a total lack of communication with their families and the outside world while at sea for months at a time.

“If the fishing industry is to sustain its existence, it must continue to listen to the aspirations of fishers and their labour unions, as well as civil society organizations. Business actors must conduct responsible business that upholds the human rights of migrant fishers,” said Hariyanto Suwarno, Chairman of Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI).

“Without mandated regular Wi-Fi access to connect migrant fishers back to shore, the ocean is effectively a ‘no union zone’ for too many of these workers. To ensure that the catch of the day is free from labour abuse, the Taiwanese and Indonesian authorities must implement labor rights for migrant fishers, starting with communications at sea in the form of Wi-Fi,” said Valery Alzaga, Deputy Director of Global Labor Justice.

The plight of migrant fishers in Taiwan’s fleet has garnered renewed attention after the recent explosive story from the Guardian on the horrific working conditions faced by the fishers who supply $1.1 billion USD of Taiwan’s distant-water fishing products, including tuna and squid, to major global markets.

Migrant workers are a major contributor to the Taiwanese economy, with more than 750,000 working in many key industries under unjust and abusive working conditions. More than 22,000 Southeast Asian migrants work in Taiwan’s fishing industry, which comprises over a thousand vessels that fish in all of the world’s oceans.