Representatives from Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency, migrant fishermen and government figures from the countries of their origin attend an event sponsored by Stella Maria Kaohsiung on July 16. (Photo supplied)
A Church group has welcomed the Taiwanese government’s new policy seeking an increase in the protection for foreign fishermen working their distant-water fishing fleets.
“We appreciate this step and the commitment to ensuring its implementation. It will have an impact on improving the lives of the migrant fishers and ensure that there is serious protection of their rights,” said Father Ansensius Guntur, executive director of Stella Maris Kaohsiung, a Church-run organization that provides care for migrants, seafarers and refugees.
The priest spoke to UCA News on July 18 in response to a statement from Taiwanese government officials that they would oversee the implementation of the Regulations on the Authorization and Management of Overseas Employment of Foreign Crew Members, which was passed in May and took effect this month.
Taiwan government's Fisheries Agency official Chiu Yi-hsien spoke about the new law while attending an event sponsored by Stella Maria Kaohsiung on July 16.
Representatives of the fishermen, as well as from governments of the countries of origin of the migrant fishermen, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as market countries such as the United States, attended the event.
The regulation is claimed to be an effort to improve the labor environment in the fishery industry and Taiwan's concrete commitment to safeguarding and respecting human rights.
It stipulates a salary increase of $100 for migrant fishermen to $550 per month, increased insurance costs, and increased monitoring of the work situation by installing CCTV cameras on board, besides creating a task force at the agency to inspect ships.
“We will definitely do our part. If a fisherman reports any wrongdoings to us, we will definitely hand down penalties because their salary is the most important part and it is the basic protection of their labor rights," Chiu was quoted as saying by Focus Taiwan.
Father Guntur said the policy was "an answer to their efforts so far that have been submitted to the country's government in various forums."
About 21,000 migrant fishermen are employed in Taiwanese finishing boats, the majority from Indonesia and the Philippines, according to Taiwanese authorities.
A report released in May last year by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union showed that they are vulnerable to violence, such as forced labor.
Father Guntur said last year they helped at least 98 migrant fishermen settle their issues, mostly related to salary and violence.
He said the Catholic group also continued to improve the crew's understanding of regulations in Taiwan.
“We hold meetings every month with migrant fishermen who are anchored in Taiwan. Last year we reached out to at least 3,000 people, mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vanuatu and Vietnam,” he said.
He said they are also trying to bring together migrant fishermen and Taiwanese authorities so that they can know firsthand what is happening on the ground and can take a stand on it.
He said the July 16 meeting gave an opportunity to fishers to clear doubts about their employment rights directly with competent authorities.
“It was also a call to listen to the fishers about their living conditions and some issues they encountered on their fishing vessels. By listening to them, we hope that the government can come up with better policies for them,” the priest said.