Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday received a Council of Agriculture briefing on a plan to address human rights in the fishery industry. The government will invest over NT$2 billion (US$68.5 million) to implement this plan, the premier said. It will tackle the issue via the improvement of fishing crew rights, onboard facilities and onshore facilities, as well as amend legal frameworks, upgrade supervision capabilities and strengthen intermediary management. The government pledges to improve Taiwan's attitude and determination toward the issue of fishermen's rights.
The export value of Taiwan's distant water fishing products is about NT$28 billion (US$958.6 million), the premier said. The fishery industry has also contributed to advancing Taiwan's foreign relations and international participation, as seen in 2019 when Taiwan successfully became a participating fishing entity of the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement. However, a few fishing boats have become involved in incidents of violence or exploitation of migrant fishing workers, subsequently bringing about criticism by both domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations. This has not only tarnished Taiwan's longstanding image of respect for the value of human rights, but also adversely affected Taiwan's fishing exports and international trade negotiations.
The government has proposed this plan to advance and strengthen the human rights of migrant workers in the fishery industry, the premier said. Beginning July 2022, measures to improve crew member rights will include raising the minimum wage from US$450 to $550, requiring wages to be paid directly to workers, and instituting a cap of 10 months for continuous shipboard service. Accidental insurance coverage will be raised from NT$1 million to NT$1.5 million (US$34,000 to US$51,000), while a new medical insurance plan will be offered with minimum coverage of NT$300,000 (US$10,000). Vessels will also be required to install auxiliary tech tools to confirm whether the crew's time out at sea exceeds limits.
In terms of onboard facilities, the government has amended laws to stipulate that new or renovated fishing vessels must comply with international fishery conventions. A strategy has also been adopted to remove old ships that can no longer comply. Moreover, crew members will be required to wear life jackets when working on deck, and ships will receive rewards for installing Wi-Fi so crew members can stay in touch with their families. As for onshore facilities, 21 washrooms and rest stations have been built so far, and a fishing crew service center at Qianzhen Fish Port in Kaohsiung is slated to be completed by the end of this year. All of these measures will help improve the living conditions of migrant fishing workers.
To address the root of the problems and systematically improve the human rights of distant water fishermen, Taiwan must build a comprehensive legal framework while improving supervision capacities and strengthening management of brokers, Premier Su said. The government will therefore add more manpower for inspections of distant water fishing vessels and increase the inspection frequency from under 10% currently to 100% within the first year.