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. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中) from coolloud.org. CC: NC.
Taiwan independent media Pots.com reported [zh] the common unfair employment practices for these migrant fishermen:
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 fishing boat. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), from Coolloud.org CC: NC.
Taiwan independent media outlet coolloud.org described [zh] the vision of this newly formed migrant workers’ union:
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. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), Coolloud.org. 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.