DOLE pushes to improve labor policies in fishing industry

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 8 Apr) – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is pushing for the harmonization of various policies and regulations governing the operations of fishing companies as it moves to improve the labor practices in the industry.

Ofelia Domingo, DOLE Region 12 director, said a joint department order is being crafted by the agency to properly lay down the national government’s labor-related policies, programs and other interventions concerning fishing companies based in this city and other parts of the country.

She said such move was an offshoot of a memorandum of agreement earlier signed by DOLE, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation and Communication, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Maritime Industry Authority, Philippine Fisheries Development Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard.

These agencies specifically recognized the need to harmonize their interventions at the operational, program and policy levels to help address various labor concerns affecting the fishing industry, she said.

Domingo said the joint department order specifically sets the “rules and regulations governing the employment and working conditions of fishers employed in fishing vessels engaged in commercial fishing operation.”

“It aims to harmonize laws and regulations in giving decent work to fishermen and ease doing business with the fishing industry,” she said in a statement.

She said the order also wants to ensure that the industry will remain competitive and continue to expand and grow.

DOLE’s legal department has been conducting consultations with various sectors regarding the provisions of the joint department order.

The agency met with members of the Soccsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII) and other fishing industry players here last month to introduce the proposed joint administrative order.

The SFFAII agreed last year to undergo an assessment by DOLE regarding the prevalence of 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.”

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz earlier urged tuna industry players here to pursue reforms in their labor practices and make sure that they are aligned with international standards.

She said it is important for local tuna companies to be compliant with the labor laws to avoid possible problems later on with the European Union (EU).

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

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.

Rosanna Contreras, SFFAII executive director, said that they welcome DOLE’s efforts to come up with the proposed joint department order.

She urged the agency to conduct extensive studies as well as consultations on the matter with various industry stakeholders.

“We just hope that this will be studied properly before it will be implemented. We need to have deeper and longer engagements on this matter,” Contreras said.