Workers urge DOLE to speed up reforms in fish export industry
MANILA, Philippines – Displaced fishermen and fish processing workers in the country’s tuna capital are getting boats from the government, but they want more than livelihood assistance.
Worker-beneficiaries interviewed by Rappler said they want long-term reforms in the fish exporting industry, including ensuring safe working conditions for handline fishermen.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) formally inaugurated boats it had funded for 148 displaced fishermen and fish processing workers on August 10 at General Santos City.
DOLE allotted P2.04 million to build primary fishing vessels and their accompanying pump boats, locally known as pakura.
The workers thanked DOLE for the help, but hoped the assistance would be complemented by a pending department order that seeks to ensure, among others, adequate pay for handling fishermen.
Handline fishermen who spend days to months at sea to catch tuna for export are subjected to hazardous working conditions, lodged in cramped quarters with no clean and adequate water. (READ: Decent jobs? The case of Filipino handline fishermen)
They are paid on commission basis, or dependent on the volume of fish caught. If there is no catch, they don't get paid. The pending department order seeks to change this system by requiring that handline fishermen be paid at least P275 a day, equal to the daily minimum wage in the region. Commissions would be paid on top of that amount.
“Sana po hindi hanggang papel lang (I hope [the changes] will not be just on paper),” United Workers of Citra Mina Group of Companies Union (UWCMGCU) Vice President Romulo Dumalag told Rappler in a phone interview, when asked about the department order in the works.
Dumalag was a lead person or blocker in a processing factory, tasked with ensuring quality and other requirements in the final processing stage of fish exports.
Displaced fish processing workers likewise said they are still hoping for their reinstatement in tuna exporting company Citra Mina.
Samuel Lumangkibe, 41, worked as a service carrier for the exporting giant for 17 years. He said he worked from 8 am to 5 pm daily with no days off but was retrenched due to alleged change in operations.
He believes the company’s action against him and other retrenched workers had to do with the workers’ unionizing efforts.
Since being dismissed in October 2014, Lumangkibe has tried working as a tricycle driver. He has two daughters to look after.
Herbert Demos of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) in the region said most of the beneficiaries have no other means to gain income but through fishing.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, who led the inauguration of the boats, noted the change in mood of the worker-beneficiaries.
“We meet today in a more hopeful and celebratory mood because this livelihood project is the reward for your trials, a victory over past tests brought by your sad experience with the Citra Mina Group of Companies,” she said in her speech.
Among the beneficiaries are the 43 workers who were part of the fishing crew of ship Love Merben 2, seized by Indonesian authorities in August last year.
The ship allegedly illegally fished in Indonesian waters, known for its abundance in sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna.
Sought for comment over the labor chief's statement, Citra Mina has not replied to Rappler's query.
All 148 worker-beneficiaries were members of the UWCMGCU, affiliated with APL. – Rappler.com