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Sailors’ deaths highlight lack of migrant worker protection

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Migrant workers in the maritime and fisheries sector were among the most exploited groups experiencing modern slavery. AFP

Sailors’ deaths highlight lack of migrant worker protection

A video showing the burial at sea of an Indonesian crew member who allegedly endured poor working conditions aboard a Chinese fishing vessel has exposed the lack of regulations that could have protected him and other migrant workers on the ship.

The video, which went viral last week, was confirmed by Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno LP Marsudi who said that the fisherman in the video was one of four Indonesian crew members registered to Chinese longliner Long Xin 629 who had died between December and last month.

Indonesian sailors who had worked aboard the vessel spoke anonymously to South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation.

They said the migrant workers aboard the ship had endured poor living conditions, such as having to work for 30-hour stretches. They said they were also made to drink filtered seawater aboard the ship, which eventually took a toll on their health.

Wahyu Susilo, executive director of labour rights advocacy group Migrant Care, said the incidents exposed the grim conditions of Indonesian migrant workers, especially those who worked in the maritime sector.

“The foreign ministry is facing difficulties in handling such cases, mainly because of jurisdictional problems.

“A case can occur on a fishing vessel with a flag different from its company’s country of origin, and it may be sailing in the territory of yet another country or international waters.

“But whatever the situation is, the government should provide universal protection for Indonesian fishermen,” said Wahyu.

The vulnerability of Indonesian migrant workers in the maritime and fisheries sector is exacerbated by the lack of adequate protection.

Even though the government enacted the Migrant Worker Protection Law in 2017, it has yet to issue the implementing regulations mandated by the law.

“Some agencies are fighting over the powers to potentially be introduced by these regulations. In this case, [the contention is] among the transportation ministry, the manpower ministry and the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Agency,” Wahyu said.

The 2017 law has been hailed by activists as an improvement from the 2004 law, marking a shift in the government’s focus from a pro-business perspective to a protection-first perspective.

The law requires a set of implementing government regulations which were to be issued by November last year or two years after the law’s enactment.

However, to date, the Ministry of Manpower, as the leading institution, has yet to issue any regulations that could have protected the sailors.

The foreign ministry is now pushing for the deliberation of government regulation on the protection of the crews of fishing and commercial vessels.

Retno said the government should supervise more strictly the recruitment of Indonesian sailors by foreign ship-owners and should fully examine their employment contracts.

“We call for the business processes – including the placement of crew members on longline fishing vessels – to be improved through better protection of their rights,” said Retno.

According to the 2014-2016 Global Slavery Index by Australia-based human rights group Walk Free, migrant workers in the maritime and fisheries sector, especially fishing crews, were among the most exploited groups experiencing modern slavery.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Indonesian crew members on fishing vessels trapped in this modern slavery,” said Wahyu.

Retno lamented that the regulations governing fishing vessel crews, particularly those working on longliners, were very limited, unlike commercial vessels whose operations were regulated in detail in the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) 2006 Maritime Labour Convention.

She said: “For the crews of longline fishing vessels, they are protected by no – or very limited – international rules.

“This will also be a priority for [Indonesian] diplomacy – encouraging the establishment of international legal norms to regulate the protection of crews on these fishing vessels.”

Mas Achmad Santosa of the Indonesian Ocean Justice Initiative pointed out that Indonesia could instead start by ratifying ILO’s 2007 Work in Fishing Convention, which specifically regulates the protection of fisheries crews.

The convention establishes a minimum working age, standard work agreements and crew protections. It also requires governments to adopt national regulations to ensure vessel owners provide for the health and safety of crew members.

“Even though in 2016, Indonesia ratified the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention, which regulates social security, workers’ rights and fair employment opportunities for seafarers, the convention excludes protection for the crews of fishing vessels,” Mas Achmad said.



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