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Fishermen Organize First Migrant Workers’ Union in Taiwan

Eighty-nine Philippine fishermen in Taiwan's Yilan County have formed the island's first migrant workers’ union, three years after an amendment to the Labor Union Act was passed giving migrant workers the right to organize their own labor unions.

The fishermen union was formed on May 25, 2013, but represents only a fraction of the migrant fishermen legally hired in Taiwain — currently, there are more than 6,000 [zh]. Among them, Indonesians are the majority, and the rest are mainly from Vietnam and the Philippines. The majority haven't been unionized and face serious exploitation from employers.

The meeting. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The meeting. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中) from CC: NC.

Taiwan independent media reported [zh] the common unfair employment practices for these migrant fishermen:

Jose Toquero說,契約上寫8小時,但若漁船故障需等到隔天,往往從晚上11點開始連續工作14個小時,而遠洋一次出海就需三、四天的作業,也很難明確劃分工作與休息。「我們沒有真正的休假,雖然滿月時不會出海,一個月本來規定有五天休假,但如果還需要補網子、做其他的工作,常常整個月都沒有休假,而且能不能休假也要看雇主,有的雇主完全不讓你休息。」

Jose Toquero said that although the working hours should be eight hours based on their contract, if the fishing boat has any trouble, they need to wait for another day until they can disembark the boat. They usually work for 14 hours from 11 p.m. In addition, if they are on a fishing vessel for pelagic fishery, a single trip usually takes three to four days. In that case, it is difficult to define working hours and resting hours. Jose said, “we do not have real holidays. Based on our contract, we do not go fishing when it is a full moon and we should have five holidays in a month. However, if we need to do other work like mending the nets on those days, there is no real holiday for us. Having a holiday or not depends on the employers. Some employers do not let you take any rest.”


Rolando (Mahinay) said that he only received 8,000 new Taiwan dollars [266 US dollars] as monthly salary for his first 18 months because the commission fee was deducted from his salary, which is more than 10,000 new Taiwan dollars [333 US dollars] per month. When I talked to him, I noticed that his eyes were red. He said that he is requested to do all kinds of work other than fishery by his employer. His eyes were hurt when he did welding without proper protection.
The fishery boat. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The fishing boat. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), from CC: NC.

Taiwan independent media outlet described [zh] the vision of this newly formed migrant workers’ union:

工會監事會召集人何希(Jose Toquero)表示,來台前與雇主之約定通常也是每日工作8小時,但海上狀況多,幾乎不可能按時下班,不只是加班費該給而未給、工時過高是一大問題,未來希望能透過工會與雇主協調並解決。

Jose Toquero, the convenor of the board of supervisors, said that the migrant fishermen would like to discuss with employers through the union to solve the problems of long working hours and unpaid overtime work. Before they came to Taiwan, their contract signed by their employers said that the working hours should be eight hours. However, it is difficult for them to get off duty if they have any kind of troubles on the fishing boats.


Because the members of this union are mainly from the Ilonggo Seafarers Organization, most of its members are from the Philippines. However, Jose emphasized that they want to expand the size of the union. In the future, they want to serve the Indonesian fishermen as well as the Philippine fishermen…Several migrant worker associations from Kaoksiung and Pingtung, which are also famous for their fishery industry, came to their meeting to learn how to form a migrant workers’ union.
The fishermen. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The fishermen. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), CC: NC

Coolloud also interviewed [zh] Lee Lee-huan (李麗華), a staff member from the Haoran Foundation, who helped establish this union, about the difficulties in organizing the migrant fishermen in Taiwan:


Although the amendment to the Labor Union Act was passed two years ago so the migrant workers should be able to form their own unions, there are not sufficient supplementary measures. For example, language is a big problem. Most migrant workers do not understand Chinese, so they have difficulties in understanding the details of the Act. In addition, their job on the boats does not have regular working hours because a lot of things can happen on the fishing boats. It is very difficult to organize a meeting for all the fishermen working on different boats to gather together.

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