A major boost to efforts to improve working conditions for millions of workers in the fishing sector came into force on November 16 with the International Labor Convention 188.
“The Work in Fishing Convention sets the basic standards of decent work in the fishing industry. Our commitment is to work to make this Convention one that provides effective protection for all of the people who work in this sector,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “We have a long way to go, but we believe that we can do that.”
Commercial fishing provides one of the most important sources of food, in particular animal protein, and is essential to food security. Over 38 million people work in capture a fishery, which is considered to be one of the world’s most hazardous occupations. Hundreds of millions of dependents and others depend on the sector for their livelihoods.
“Our commitment is to work to make this Convention one that provides effective protection for all of the people who work in this sector.”
Though many fishing vessel owners treat their crews well, fishers too often face serious challenges to decent working conditions, including informal work practices, weather and seasonality and the generally hazardous nature of working in the marine environment. There are concerns about forced labor, human trafficking and the exploitation of migrant labor in fishing worldwide. Laws and regulation protecting fishers are often non-existent or unclear.
Convention No. 188 sets out binding requirements to address the main issues concerning work on board fishing vessels, including occupational safety and health and medical care at sea and ashore, rest periods, written work agreements, and social security protection at the same level as other workers. It aims to ensure that fishing vessels are constructed and maintained so that fishers have decent living conditions on board.
The Convention helps prevent unacceptable forms of work for all fishers, especially migrant fishers. It provides for regulation of the recruitment process and investigation of complaints by fishers. This will help prevent forced labor, trafficking and other abuses.
States ratifying Convention No. 188 commit to exercising control over fishing vessels, through inspection, reporting, monitoring, complaint procedures, penalties and corrective measures, and may then also inspect foreign fishing vessels visiting their ports and take appropriate action.
“This Convention will change the work and living conditions for thousands of fishers, working in one of the most dangerous and often unpoliced professions in the world,” said Johnny Hansen, chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Fisheries section. “Far too many of them are scandalously and criminally exploited. This should be a turning point in their lives.”
“For the sake of justice, human lives and a better industry, we call on States to ratify and implement this landmark Convention, and ask the ILO to actively promote it worldwide,” Hansen added.
Ment van der Zwan, employers’ spokesperson at the recent ILO expert meeting on migrant fishers, says he is very pleased with the coming into force of the Convention, but also expressed some disappointment that only 10 Members of the ILO have ratified it to date. “If governments and consumers are seriously concerned about the treatment of certain fishers, about the working and living conditions under which their seafood is produced, about safety at sea in fishing in general, the number of ratifications must go up rapidly, especially in areas of the world where the protection of fishers is below the minimum standards this Convention sets.”
Ratification of an ILO Convention is an important commitment. Once ratified, a State must periodically report to the ILO how that convention is being implemented through laws, regulations or other measures. The ILO’s system for the supervision of standards reviews these reports and will guide the State towards full compliance. It is therefore essential that all States involved in the fishing sector ratify Convention No. 188 and make this commitment.
The Convention is supplemented by the accompanying Work in Fishing Recommendations (199) as well as two sets of Guidelines for flag States and port States carrying out inspections under the Convention. These were all developed through discussions among representatives of governments and fishing vessel owner and fishers representative organizations. Recognizing the great differences among States and fishing vessel operations, the Convention provides for some flexibility in its implementation – but only after tripartite consultation at the national level.
Government, employer and worker delegates voted overwhelmingly to adopt the landmark Convention at the 96th session of the ILO Conference in in June 2007. The Convention came into force one year after its 10th ratification, by Lithuania on 16 November 2016.