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Jakarta Post

Govt urged to step up efforts against exploitation of fishermen amid COVID-19

  • Budi Sutrisno

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, July 31, 2020   /   10:09 am
Govt urged to step up efforts against exploitation of fishermen amid COVID-19 The Lu Huang Yuan Yu 117, a Chinese-flagged fishing vessel, was secured by Indonesian authorities in Riau Islands after they received information on the death of an Indonesian worker on board. (JP/Fadli)

Plan International Indonesia Foundation (Plan Indonesia) has called on the government to improve its multistakeholder efforts in combating exploitative practices and trafficking in the fishing industry amid COVID-19.

Concerns have mounted over the vulnerability of Indonesian workers to exploitation, following several reports of alleged abuse and violence against Indonesian fishing crew members on foreign vessels.

Plan Indonesia program director Romatio Wulandari said the pandemic had led to a rise in human trafficking at sea because of economic uncertainties for fishers, who often had to travel further for their catch.

“World Day against Trafficking in Persons [July 30] reminds us that we need to work collaboratively to end this modern-day slavery in the fishing industry,” Romatio said in a webinar on Thursday.

The Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister said the government was in the process of ratifying the International Labour Organization (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention No. 188/2007, which would be used to reinforce the protection of fishers’ fundamental rights.

“It is also expected to improve synergy among ministries in harmonizing regulations for workers’ recruitment, placement and travel,” said the ministry’s assistant deputy for maritime security and resilience, Basilio Dias Araujo.

Basilio said Indonesia had developed a national team tasked with the protection of fishing crew members in 2019, and that the government was now finalizing its 2020-2024 action plan for fishing crew protection.

He added that Indonesia ranked third in the global supply and demand for seafarers, after China and the Philippines. The number of Indonesian seafarers had reached more than 1.1 million as of early June.

Read also: Indonesia makes more arrests in sailor's torture killing

According to the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, Indonesia had developed a system for fishing companies to obtain certification for human rights protection in 2015, but no company had been certified to date.

“Going forward, we will continue to push for a comprehensive sea work agreement and raise awareness of the concept of human rights in the industry,” said the ministry’s fishing vessels and equipment director, Goenaryo.

Plan International, funded by the United States Department of Labor (USOL), has developed a project called Safeguarding Against and Addressing Fishers’ Exploitation at Sea (SAFE Seas), now being implemented in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Through SAFE Seas, Plan Indonesia has established a Safe Fishing Alliance (SFA) to promote a fair and transparent supply chain in the fishing industry among workers, the private sector and the government.

At the community-level, Plan Indonesia is partnering with Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia to establish fisher centers in Tegal, Central Java, and Bitung, North Sulawesi, to ensure reporting mechanisms are accessible for fishermen.

“Through these fisher centers, we aim to combat exploitative practices on fishing vessels and at the same time, educate workers in the fishing industry about their labor rights and acceptable working conditions,” said SAFE Seas project director Nono Sumarsono.

A senior officer at the US Department of Labor, Marina Colby, reported that the department was currently funding approximately US$11 million for technical assistance programs to address forced labor and child labor in the seafood sector, including SAFE Seas.

“Indonesia’s fisheries are a global importance, along with all the fishers that keep the sector afloat. Today, we are all seeing the vulnerability of fishers increased due to COVID-19, pressing us to do more to help mitigate the risks,” Colby said.