Labor Secretary Baldoz wants tuna industry to improve labor practices

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 12 March) – Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz called on tuna industry players here to pursue critical reforms in their labor practices and make sure that they are aligned with international standards.

Baldoz issued the call as she warned that the country’s inclusion of its tuna products in the European Union’s (EU) Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) list could be jeopardized by the prevailing questionable labor practices in the tuna industry.

In a consultation-dialogue with members of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. here on Tuesday, she said it is important for local tuna companies to be compliant with the labor laws to avoid possible problems later on with the EU.

She said they should specifically put an end to the prevailing contractualization schemes in the operations of companies in the industry, especially the “cabo” system that is prevalent in tuna fishing operations.

The Labor Code of the Philippines defines “cabo” as “a person or group of persons or a labor group which, in the guise of a labor organization, supplies workers to an employer, with or without any monetary or other consideration whether in the capacity of an agent of the employer or as an ostensible independent contractor.”

Under such scheme, Baldoz said fishermen are mainly paid on a sharing scheme based on the total sales and in proportion to the catch rather than fixed wages.

“This sometimes lead to uncertainties whether a fisher receive the fair share of his hard work and the worth of being away from his family for a long period,” she said.

Fishermen contracted under the scheme are not usually covered by health insurance from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth as well as membership with the Pag-Ibig Fund and the Social Security System, she said.

Baldoz said such situation increases the vulnerability of the fishermen to income risks associated with old age, illness, disability, work-related injury and unemployment.

“That primarily pushes them more into poverty,” she said during the consultation-dialogue called by the agency.

Baldoz said the EU has been closely monitoring the labor situation in the city’s tuna fishing and its allied industries.

She earlier emphasized that the industry needs to align its labor practices with global standards as the EU GSP+ involved the ratification and observance with 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, including the eight International Labor Organization’s core conventions.

“The issue of labor rights, when it comes to the GSP+ privileges, is a serious matter. (The EU) can suspend or withdraw them in case of violations,” she said.

She said the tuna industry should not allow the GSP+ privileges to be put to waste as it greatly benefits from it.

“We should find solutions where we can help each other,” she said.

EU’s GSP+ mainly grants zero duty or tariff to over 6,000 eligible exports from the Philippines to its member-states.

It covers processed and canned-tuna products caught by 100-percent Philippine-registered vessels.

The city, which is home to six of the country’s tuna canneries, is dubbed the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.”

The industry generates annual export receipts of around $350 million and directly employs about 20,000 workers.

Industry sources said the inclusion of the country in the EU GSP+ will mean at least additional $15 million, or P660 million, in revenues for tuna exporters.