May 29, 2023

Mongabay Series:
JAKARTA — Fisheries and human rights observers in Indonesia are calling for a revamp of the country’s fisher training program ahead of a scheduled evaluation of measures to protect maritime workers at home and overseas.
Indonesia, one of the world’s largest fish producers, is home to some 2.3 million people who identify as fishers and boat crews working on domestic and foreign-flagged fleets. However, many of them lack proper training for safety and fishing operations, which experts say leaves them vulnerable to exploitive employment practices and endangers their lives.
A survey from February to April by the NGO Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia found that only 6% of 45 deckhands working at the country’s largest fishing port, the Nizam Zachman port in Jakarta, had government-issued basic safety certification. The relatively high cost for the basic training and certification, combined with low awareness of the benefits and poor inspection at ports are some of the reasons fishers aren’t enrolling in the certification program, DFW found.
“Such certification is essential as evidence of their presence as crew on fishing vessels,” Mohamad Abdi Suhufan, DFW’s national coordinator, told Mongabay in a recent interview.
Indonesia in 2019 ratified the 1995 Convention of Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F), which includes international guidelines for the protection of crews working aboard domestic and foreign boats. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) which oversees the STCW-F, is scheduled in 2024 to evaluate Indonesia’s efforts to implement the agreement.
In recent years, the Indonesian government has encouraged fishers and deckhands across the archipelago to take formal courses at training centers or institutes. It has also rolled out free-of-charge training for small-scale fishers all over the country, and moved to overhaul training and certification facilities as well as update the fisher training curriculum to conform to international standards. But experts say more efforts can be made to facilitate potential maritime workers in enrolling themselves in the program, including getting local governments more involved in allocating funding for the certification.
“The law on migrant work protection is clear in stating that provincial governments must allocate funding for training and education, but across Indonesia, only three provinces have already done so: East Java, West Java and North Sulawesi,” Fadilla Octaviani, director of law enforcement and access to justice at the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), a Jakarta-based think tank, said in a recent online discussion.
At the same time, the Indonesian government is forging “sea-based” bilateral agreements to protect the rights of its citizens working on fishing boats under other countries’ flags, in a bid to tackle labor abuses and modern slavery. Migrant boat crews from Indonesia and the Philippines make up a large component of the distant-water fleet of Taiwan, one of the top five in the world and responsible for an industry valued at $2 billion a year, according to Greenpeace. The group cited the Taiwan Fisheries Agency as saying that 21,994 Indonesian fishers were employed on Taiwanese coastal and distant-water fishing vessels as of June 2019.
“But diplomacy starts at home. It’s how we empower, strengthen our sea workers, and that starts from them knowing their rights while they’re still in Indonesia, before they sign the contract, and knowing the reporting mechanism should there be any violation,” Judha Nugraha, the Indonesian foreign ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesian citizens overseas, said in a recent online discussion.
At home, Indonesia has recently issued a much-anticipated decree to boost the protection of Indonesian deckhands working aboard foreign commercial and fishing vessels. The new regulation also includes working scheme and condition standards based on a global convention on work in fishing by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, known as ILO C188; the introduction of collective-bargaining agreements for migrant workers; and establishing an integrated database on migrant workers between related government agencies.
Former migrant deckhands from Indonesia have previously described dire and even deadly working conditions on board foreign vessels, including overwork, withholding of wages, debt bondage, and physical and sexual violence. Under these conditions, many are forced to cut short their working contracts, which typically run about two years, and forfeit the deposits they were typically required to pay to get the jobs. Experts also note that forced labor on board fishing vessels often goes hand in hand with illegal fishing.
“So far, we have paid a lot of attention to replenish the fish stock and quality, but only a little to the social aspect and welfare of the fishers and fishing boat crews,” DFW’s Abdi said. “There must be a balance between productivity and social welfare [in fisheries].”
See related: Mongabay’s award-winning investigation of worker abuse aboard a Chinese tuna fishing fleet, here.
Basten Gokkon is a senior staff writer for Indonesia at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @bgokkon.
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