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Fishermen Organize First Migrant Workers’ Union in Taiwan

Eighty-nine Philippine fishermen in Taiwan's Yilan County have formed the island's first migrant workers’ union, three years after an amendment to the Labor Union Act was passed giving migrant workers the right to organize their own labor unions.

The fishermen union was formed on May 25, 2013, but represents only a fraction of the migrant fishermen legally hired in Taiwain — currently, there are more than 6,000 [zh]. Among them, Indonesians are the majority, and the rest are mainly from Vietnam and the Philippines. The majority haven't been unionized and face serious exploitation from employers.

The meeting. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The meeting. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中) from coolloud.org. CC: NC.

Taiwan independent media Pots.com reported [zh] the common unfair employment practices for these migrant fishermen:

Jose Toquero說,契約上寫8小時,但若漁船故障需等到隔天,往往從晚上11點開始連續工作14個小時,而遠洋一次出海就需三、四天的作業,也很難明確劃分工作與休息。「我們沒有真正的休假,雖然滿月時不會出海,一個月本來規定有五天休假,但如果還需要補網子、做其他的工作,常常整個月都沒有休假,而且能不能休假也要看雇主,有的雇主完全不讓你休息。」

Jose Toquero said that although the working hours should be eight hours based on their contract, if the fishing boat has any trouble, they need to wait for another day until they can disembark the boat. They usually work for 14 hours from 11 p.m. In addition, if they are on a fishing vessel for pelagic fishery, a single trip usually takes three to four days. In that case, it is difficult to define working hours and resting hours. Jose said, “we do not have real holidays. Based on our contract, we do not go fishing when it is a full moon and we should have five holidays in a month. However, if we need to do other work like mending the nets on those days, there is no real holiday for us. Having a holiday or not depends on the employers. Some employers do not let you take any rest.”

Rolando說,剛來台時曾經連續十八個月都只拿到8000元薪水,光仲介費就需扣掉一萬多。談話時,我注意到他眼睛裡有不尋常的泛紅血絲,一問之下,他才說那是因為工作內容不只漁船作業,全部的事情都必須做,他的眼睛就是因為被老闆叫去做焊接時,因為沒有足夠的安全措施而導致眼睛被火花噴濺受傷。

Rolando (Mahinay) said that he only received 8,000 new Taiwan dollars [266 US dollars] as monthly salary for his first 18 months because the commission fee was deducted from his salary, which is more than 10,000 new Taiwan dollars [333 US dollars] per month. When I talked to him, I noticed that his eyes were red. He said that he is requested to do all kinds of work other than fishery by his employer. His eyes were hurt when he did welding without proper protection.
The fishery boat. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The fishing boat. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), from Coolloud.org CC: NC.

Taiwan independent media outlet coolloud.org described [zh] the vision of this newly formed migrant workers’ union:

工會監事會召集人何希(Jose Toquero)表示,來台前與雇主之約定通常也是每日工作8小時,但海上狀況多,幾乎不可能按時下班,不只是加班費該給而未給、工時過高是一大問題,未來希望能透過工會與雇主協調並解決。

Jose Toquero, the convenor of the board of supervisors, said that the migrant fishermen would like to discuss with employers through the union to solve the problems of long working hours and unpaid overtime work. Before they came to Taiwan, their contract signed by their employers said that the working hours should be eight hours. However, it is difficult for them to get off duty if they have any kind of troubles on the fishing boats.

由於工會組織最早的人際網絡是菲律賓Ilonggo的在台同鄉會,所以目前加入工會的都是菲律賓籍,不過Jose強調,希望工會能持續擴大,未來能不只服務菲律賓人,要讓更多印尼漁工也一起加入…現場也有來自漁業興盛的高雄、屏東等地的移民團體前來「取經」,盼能讓移工組織工會的風氣持續擴散。

Because the members of this union are mainly from the Ilonggo Seafarers Organization, most of its members are from the Philippines. However, Jose emphasized that they want to expand the size of the union. In the future, they want to serve the Indonesian fishermen as well as the Philippine fishermen…Several migrant worker associations from Kaoksiung and Pingtung, which are also famous for their fishery industry, came to their meeting to learn how to form a migrant workers’ union.
The fishermen. Figure from the Coolloud report taken by Haochung (顥中).

The fishermen. Photo taken by Haochung (顥中), Coolloud.org. CC: NC

Coolloud also interviewed [zh] Lee Lee-huan (李麗華), a staff member from the Haoran Foundation, who helped establish this union, about the difficulties in organizing the migrant fishermen in Taiwan:

雖然《工會法》在2年前就修正開放外籍人士加入工會,但還欠缺許多配套,例如語言就是重要問題,多數移工不諳中文,就連要了解相關法令的內容都相當困難,此外,船上工作工時不固定、臨時狀況多,四散在不同船家的漁工們,要湊在一起開會,也實屬不易。

Although the amendment to the Labor Union Act was passed two years ago so the migrant workers should be able to form their own unions, there are not sufficient supplementary measures. For example, language is a big problem. Most migrant workers do not understand Chinese, so they have difficulties in understanding the details of the Act. In addition, their job on the boats does not have regular working hours because a lot of things can happen on the fishing boats. It is very difficult to organize a meeting for all the fishermen working on different boats to gather together.

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