Indonesian migrant fishermen welcome new regulation that ensures protection, rights

Indonesian migrant fishers have welcomed the recently ratified regulation that ensures their rights, protection, and employment on board foreign fishing vessels – a significant milestone towards curbing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and abuse within the industrial fishing industry.

The regulation was issued just hours after the first trial of an administrative lawsuit from three former fishers against the President of the Republic of Indonesia for failing to ratify a 2017 law ensuring worker safety and rights, thus neglecting their own government mandate to issue its derivative regulations no later than two years after its issuance.

On June 8, almost five years after the original law was passed, the Indonesian government officially signed on to the Government Regulation no. 22/2022 on the Placement and Protection of Migrant Trading Vessels Crew and Fishing Vessels Crew.

“Of course we are happy, our struggles have now been paid off,” said Pukaldi Sassuanto, one of the former fishers who were party to the lawsuit. “We hope that the government will immediately take actions as well as to punish those who are responsible for my unpaid wages to finish their job. I worked as a ship crew member for two-and-a-half years, but I haven’t received even a cent from my salary. We will continue this fight.”

Since the signing of the regulation, the three ex-migrant fishers – Pukaldi Sassuanto, Jati Puji Santoso, and Rizki Wahyudi, who all experienced violence during their work on foreign-flagged fishing vessels and are still waiting for their rights to be paid – revoked their lawsuit. Their lawyer, Viktor Santoso Tandiasa, said the revocation was done because the government had fulfilled their demand through the lawsuit.

“However, we need to thoroughly analyze this regulation first to ensure whether it has matched our expectations and whether it is enough to provide protection for Indonesian migrant ship crew members. If it turns out that there are many things that we consider need to be revised, we will file a judicial review to the Supreme Court,” said Viktor.

Chairman of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI) Hariyanto Suwarno, said the withdrawal of this lawsuit would not loosen endeavors to continue to defend and fight for the rights of Indonesian ship crew members and has ensured that SBMI will oversee its implementation.

“The regulation on migrant fishers’ placement and protection is definitely an important instrument. But what is more important is the restoration of the rights of the crew members. Outside the trial, we will continue our fight to the Ministry of Manpower to pursue companies that violate the rights of crew members,” said Hariyanto.

From 2013 to the end of 2021, the SBMI received 634 complaints of human rights violations against Indonesian crew members. In a 2021 joint report between SBMI and Greenpeace Southeast Asia [3], the top forced labor indicators include withholding of wages (87%), abusive working and living conditions (82%), deception (80%), and abuse of vulnerability (67%).

Greenpeace Indonesia Ocean Campaigner, Afdillah, said he hoped from now onwards the government can be more present in the efforts to protect Indonesian migrant fishers. According to him, the government’s sluggish attitude in ratifying the government regulation that had led the three former fishers to file an administrative lawsuit against the President was a bad precedent.

Afdillah said: “It is indeed a victory for us, but we are still disappointed with the government. The government regulation should have been passed three years ago, but it was too late and had worsened our migrant fishers’ conditions. 

“Even so, this remains a significant victory to encourage Indonesia and other countries within the global fisheries industry to move in the same direction to end the practice of slavery at sea and to enforce more socially and environmentally responsible fisheries management globally.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Wen Solli

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