Control Yuan vows to strengthen supervision on protecting migrant fishermen’s rights

TAIPEI (The China Post) — The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC, 國家人權委員會) under the Control Yuan remarked on Tuesday that Taiwan should look into transnational labor brokers and convenient flag ships (權宜船) more closely to ensure migrant fishermens’ rights are not violated or exploited.

During its first event of the “Taiwan Human Rights PLUS” series, commission members got together to discuss how to better protect the rights of migrant fishermen, and commissioner Wang Mei-yu (王美玉) pointed out the long-existing exploitation of fishermen on offshore fishing boats.

Wang said that according to international law (國際法), as Taiwan does not have ownership over convenient flag ships, it has no jurisdiction unless it’s to prevent human trafficking.

As Taiwan has no means to oversee and supervise what goes on on the boat, this may result in migrant fishermen being exploited with no ways of seeking help, leaving the vessel owners free from punishment.

The Fisheries Agency (漁業署) has made it clear in the past that it would control the number of convenient flag ships, and recently announced that any Taiwanese suspected of being involved in forced labor or human trafficking issues will not be allowed to operate convenient flag ships.

Foreign fishing boats that may be involved with such matters will also be prohibited from docking in Taiwan’s ports.

However, Wang pointed out that the regulations regarding migrant fishermen’s working conditions should be more detailed so as to avoid relevant authorities losing the opportunity to head on board to check for any possible signs of exploitation or seek compensation from problematic boats due to them being unable to dock in our ports.

Wang added that usually when a convenient flag ship docks in port, Taiwanese authorities can inspect it on the grounds of customs inspection, immigration, animal and plants inspection, or navigation safety.

However, there is no legal basis for inspecting boats on the grounds of investigating its “labor conditions and workers’ human rights;” therefore, she urged the Executive Yuan to come up with an amendment for relevant laws as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, she also pointed out that Taiwan labor broker agencies often help convenient flag ships recruit migrant fishermen; however, the contracts are often written like slave deeds, and labor brokers would be responsible for the management and issuing of salaries to fishermen, resulting in confusion between the rights and responsibilities of employers and labor brokers.

An investigation conducted by the Control Yuan also discovered that labor brokers sometimes report legally hired migrant fishermen as “undocumented,” making them “ghosts” on the seas, vulnerable to be exploited by brokers.

In addition, letting labor broker agencies issue wages is also a huge problem, as brokers from both countries often collect fees, withhold wages or collect deposits under various false pretexts so that the fishermen fail to receive their due wages.

Furthermore, the whole process changes hands often, resulting in high handling fees and cross-border exchange loss, all of which will be deducted from the wages of a fisherman who only receives around US$450 (NT$12,465) a month.

Wang suggested that the government should initiate inter-ministerial meetings or cross-border cooperation to solve international exchange problems and overcome the difficulties of direct salary remittance and put a stop to wages being given by labor brokers anymore.

She explained that the Fisheries Agency has already included the number of fishermen reported “undocumented” as evaluation criteria for labor brokers to prevent them from utilizing loopholes to corner migrant fishermen.

She voiced her expectations that the Ministry of Labor (MOL, 勞動部) can strengthen their cooperation with the Fisheries Agency to implement sound management and evaluation and effectively oversee labor broker agencies.