GenSan’s tuna industry urges government to study labor practices in fishery operations

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 Sept) – Tuna industry players here urged the national government to conduct an in-depth study and impact assessment on the viability of the country’s fishery operations and the existing labor practices.

Joaquin Lu, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII), said the move will rationalize ongoing efforts for the issuance of a joint department order that would govern the employment and working conditions of fishermen employed in fishing vessels that are engaged in commercial operations.

He clarified that they are not opposing the issuance of the joint department order but stressed that it should properly consider the actual situation on the ground.

“It will have a tremendous impact on our existing fishing operations so it is essential for the government to make extensive studies about the matter,” he said.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) had launched a series of consultations in line with the drafting of the joint department order.

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.

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.”

Lu said the proposed joint department order appears similar to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention No. 188, adopted in 2007, which mainly aims to ensure that “fishers have decent conditions of work on board fishing vessels with regard to minimum requirement for work on board; conditions of service; accommodation and food; occupational safety and health protection; medical care and social security.”

The convention is supposed to take effect 12 months after being ratified by 10 states, eight of which must be coastal countries. The convention has so far been ratified by five coastal states – Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Morocco, and South Africa.

The national government, which has yet to ratify the convention, had conducted a gap analysis on the impacts of the existing provisions of the proposed convention and its accompanying recommendation.

“The joint department order is unmistakably similar to the ILO Convention 188 but with exacting and more stringent stipulations,” Lu said.

“Since this will generate comparable impact or even more demanding repercussions to the Philippine fishing industry, it is but only appropriate and consequent that an equivalent in-depth study and impact assessment on the viability of the Philippine fishery operations and comprehensive consultation process be made prior to the issuance of the order,” Lu added.