By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Philippine government should do its best to protect the rights of the country’s 300,000 fishing industry workers.
This was the statement made by the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) last week to President Benigno Aquino III as Pamalakaya chairman Fernando attended an international conference titled Empowerment Through Information: Training Program on International and Regional Developments of Relevance to Small-Scale Fisheries and Fishing Communities in Asia” Bangkok, Thailand from January 9-14, 2012.
Hicap said the Philippine government has yet to sign the Work in Fishing convention of the International Labor Organization, which aims to protect the rights of fishing industry workers all the world.
The training program was sponsored by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) based in Chennai, India. Hicap was invited to speak on issues dealing with protection of small-scale fisherfolk and on the conditions of Filipino fish workers aboard commercial fishing vessels in the country. The conference aimed to be avenue for knowledge-exchange between fisherfolk organizations, the fishery NGOs and social movements and how they can utilize existing international instruments to effectively fight threats to fishing rights and livelihood and assert fishery rights as human rights.
According to Hicap, the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention can be used by organizations espousing rights of fisherfolk and fishing industry workers to oppose oppressive measures carried out by operators and owners of commercial fishing vessels.
The convention was adopted by government, worker and employer delegatesduring the ILO International Labour Conference in 2007. It came into effect after it was ratified by 10 (including eight coastal nations) of the ILO’s 180 member States.
Among the convention’s provisions include measures aiming to ensure that workers in the fishing sector (1) have improved occupational safety and health and medical care at sea, and that sick or injured fishers receive care ashore; (2) receive sufficient rest for their health and safety; (3) have the protection of a work agreement; and (4) possess the same social security protection as other workers. It also covers issues on repatriation and compliance and enforcement.
According to Pamalakaya, the Philippine remains a non-signatory as former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo refused to sign the agreement for undisclosed reasons.
In his presentation during the gathering, Hicap reported on the unfair labor conditions suffered by fishing industry workers in the Philippines. He reported that fish workers suffer underpayment and low salaries.
“Almost 90 percent of the 300,000 fish workers in the Philippines’commercial fishery and aquaculture sectors do not receive minimum wages in exchange for more than the prescribed eight-hour work per day. Modern-day slavery is prevalent in commercial fishing vessels and the Philippine government has not done anything to reverse these ongoing labor injustices prevalent in commercial fishing vessels,” he said.
Based on Pamalakaya’s research, majority of Filipino fish workers are not covered by the minimum wage law. He said workers aboard commercial fishing vessels receive P 150 to P 250 ($3.49 to $5.81) for a day’s work. Each work day comprises 16-20 hours.
The minimum wage law direct employers to ensure their workers receive the mandated minimum wage and they should only work at least eight hours a day or 40 to 48 hours a week.
The labor leader said his group continues to campaign for the ratification of the said ILO convention and to call the attention of the Senate to hasten its ratification.
PPP projects in fisheries
In the meantime, Hicap also scored the Aquino administration and its public private partnership (PPP) projects related to fisheries sector. He said these projects have “tremendous negative impact” on the rights and welfare of Filipino fisherfolk, as well as on the country’s marine resources.
Hicap named several PPP-driven projects being pushed by the Aquino government, among them the Manila Bay Master Development Plan; the Laguna Lake Master Plan; andthe Aurora Pacific Economic and Free Port zone project (Apeco). He also said the continuing magnetite mining in Ilocos, Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions and the offshore mining projects in Palawan and nearby territorial waters in West Philippine Sea have seriously affected the livelihood and fishing rights of millions of small fisherfolk.
“The PPP schemes of the government are a major threat against Filipino fisherfolk. Various fisherfolk communities are actively opposing and fighting against these projects and we are bringing these campaigns of resistance to the attention of the international community,” he said.
Hicap explained that the PPP projects in Manila Bay will displace some 100,000 fishing people living inNavotas, Paranaque, Las Pinas, all in National Capital Region (NCR) and coastal towns of Bacoor, Rosario, Tanza, Noveleta and Cavite City in Cavite province .
“The Philippine government continues to pursue reclamation projects in these areas to allow and make way for the construction of gambling and entertainment centers, large condominiums, international air and seaports,”he said. He also said the 54 projects in the 94,000 hectare Laguna Lake will displace 3.9 million fisherfolk and other poor sectors from their main source of livelihood and communities.
The labor leader also asked his contemporaries and fellow leaders in the South, Southeast and Central Asian fisherfolk groups to support the Filipino people’s opposition to magnetite mining and oil and gas exploration activities all over the Philippines. He said that already, the Aquino administration is offering 15 service contracts to foreign investors from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Japan and China to explore oil and gas resources in Palawan, in Spratlys and other parts of the archipelago.
Fishing sector problems
The country’s fisheries sector continues to experience its share of problems. In the second half of 2011, the Department of Agriculture sounded the alarm over the decreasing catch of major fish in the country’s territorial waters, among them tuna and its varieties such as yellowfin, frigate bullet and skipjack. The decreasing number of fish is reportedly caused by overfishing.
Some 12 percent of the Philippine’s total fish production is made up by tuna production. The sector is responsible for the employment of some 120,000 workers and turns out annual export receipts amounting to $280 million.
According to August 2011 report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Philippines’ tuna production industry currently suffers from high production costs and high raw material costs. This causes financial problems for canned tuna companies such as those in the tuna production capital General Santos City.
Pamalakaya, for its part, is also fighting against the government’s proposed fish ban in 10 supposedly exploited fishing areas in the country. The DA and the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) have been calling for a ban against fishing activities in major fishing, but the group said the ban might well kill almost 90 percent of the livelihood of 1.8 million small scale fisherfolk and fish workers.
Pamalakaya asserts that the two agencies calling for the ban have employed faulty science in coming up with their assessment on the supposedly exploited fishing areas. It said the ban was transparently an attempt to ease policy on fish importation and flood local markets with substandard fish imports.
The Aquino government has proposed the liberalization of fresh importations to address what it projected as possible drop in local fish stocks due to overfishing of small fishermen.