Published: 15/05/2014
May 16, 2014

The IUF Secretariat report and proposals for development of coordination among the IUF affiliates, organizing workers in fisheries and aquaculture received the unanimous support of the IUF Executive committee, which met in Geneva on May 14-15, 2014. 

The report was presented by Kirill Buketov, sector coordinator. He referred to the recent statistics of the World Bank and FAO, which show that during the last 30 years, fisheries production increased from 69 to 93 million tons. It has reached its maximum level and will remain stable for the future. On the other hand the global fish supply from aquaculture will increase from 61 to 92 million tons in 2030. Employment in the sector is growing and with rapid consolidation of the market in the hands of multinational companies, the percentage of those directly employed by the sector vis-à-vis self-employed workers is increasing as well. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the IUF, which should be explored in further cooperation with the International Transport Workers Federation, the ITF. 

The presentation was followed by a concrete example of how this cooperation can advance workers’ organizing in fisheries. Donnath Malawae, fisheries coordinator of the Transport and Maritime Workers Union from Papua New Guinea described the activities and actions supported by the joint IUF-ITF programme, which resulted after a few years of on-the-ground work in the organization of more than five thousand workers in a union in spite of the sharp resistance of the employers. The programme team has lead 8 company campaigns, trained dozens of union reps and opened bargaining negotiations in 4 companies. 

The programme, which is called “Working together from catcher to corner” is coordinated by Liz Blackshaw and sets a good example to follow in other countries. The focus will be on the transnational companies operating in the sector. The ITF Fisheries Committee, which met earlier the same week in London confirmed its commitment for stronger cooperation with the IUF in orgainising food processing and aquaculture workers.

Gerhard Riess (GMTN Austria) pointed to the growing risks of using new technologies to increase the growth of the inland and fish farmed products. Sebastian Serena (FITAG Spain) said the sector plays an important role in the Spanish economy, which is one of the largest producers of fish products in the world. Rapid globalisation of the sector increases injustice as almost all companies, which deny workers’ rights, receive access to the market and undermine social standards internationally. Unions should pay more attention to the multilateral and bilateral trade treaties and agreements, these agreements must include a very strong social component in order to stop dumping of fish products produced under substandard conditions.

Jan-Egel Pedersen (NNN Norway) informed the EC of the 10 times increase of production of salmon and trout in Norway. Companies produce more and more, while the wages and social standards for the workers remain unchanged. NNN is in a conflict with the employers association, demanding serious increase of the wages and benefits. Almost 1000 workers at 15 fish processing plants announced strike action if the employers don’t meet the May 21st union demands. Many workers in these plants are migrant, and with this action we aim to set up Norwegian pay level and working conditions for all. 

Fabrizio de Pascale (UILA Italy) pointed out that the growth of aquaculture is a “necessary evil”. It is one of the ways to satisfy demand of the growing world population for food, but unions and our progressive allies should push through the government, European and United Nations institutions for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture production system, which takes into account limitations of the sea resources and not just following the business demands. We should support every effort to eliminate irregular, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices.

Gerardo Iglesias, IUF Regional secretary for Latin America pointed to the negative environmental aspects of the growing fish farming sector. As the land for these farms is normally used for agricultural production, more fish farms mean less cultivated land, with all the consequences for sustainability of the food sector and changing structure of employment. Another area of concern should be genetic experiments, a modified salmon can already release thousands eggs, what if this salmon will reach the open ocean?

IUF Africa regional secretary Gabriel Babalola and IUF Africa regional health and safety programme coordinator Omara Amuko stressed the importance of the fisheries for many of the countries of the continent, where thousands of workers in communities totally depend on the catch or grown fish. Health and safety will be the major issue in the sector in Africa, a special programme of activities is needed to map the industry and the scope of the labour issues.

The IUF Asia Pacific conference added aquaculture to the programme of activities of the regional organisation, reported Hidayat Greenfield, regional secretary. Numerous recent reports disclose brutal working, health and safety conditions in the sector, which employs many children and women, most of whom are migrants. Small scale aquaculture cannot be sustainable and; creates big risks for food security. In Thailand and Burma bankruptcy of fish-farmers is becoming widespread,  increasing poverty and forcing workers families to migrate. 

In his concluding remarks IUF general secretary Ron Oswald summarised the course of the discussion, stressing the importance of cooperation with the ITF. While the IUF represents aquaculture and fish processing workers, the ITF’s primary area of responsibility is the protection of workers in the ocean and sea waters, but both these parts merge together when transnational companies develop their businesses. In order to be effective, we must work together.

The EC concluded the discussion with congratulations to the TMWU of Papua New Guinea for the successful organising programme, commitment to support fish workers strike in Norway, confirmed to continue cooperation with the ITF and develop a regional activities programme, as mandated by the IUF 26th world congress.