Migrant fishermen have made indispensable contributions to Taiwan’s fishing industry for many years, but do you know that many of them don’t even have a bed to sleep in or enough food to fill themselves? Not only so, the Migrant Empowerment Network in Taiwan (MENT) says there are even employers that take NT$ 5,000 (approximately US$ 151) each month out of the fishermen’s salary as boarding and food costs. With agencies also cutting unreasonable payments, the workers are left with almost nothing.

Newtalk reports, MENT protested in front of the Ministry of Labor on August 24 and advocated for protection of the working rights of foreign fishermen. They ask for employers to thoroughly carry out wages regulated by the Labor Standards Act and that the ministry should punish those who violate the act.

Two fishermen shared their experiences at the press conference. One said he had to sleep near the motor on the boat, but because it was too hot and noisy, he had to sleep on the deck. Their employers also took NT$ 5,000 of living costs from them and only gave them NT$ 500 (approximately US$ 15) to get through six days during the typhoon. They had to look for food themselves and only had porridge for lunch and dinner, which was far from enough.

CNA reports, MENT emphasizes that the Labor Standards Act applies to migrant fishermen, and not only are accident risks high for them, but the working environments are very bad. This is why migrant fishermen are called the contemporary slaves on sea. MENT says the Ministry of Labor shouldn’t keep letting employers who break the law get away with it. If the fishing industry continues to ignore living issues or refuse to pay full salary, the workers will become slave laborers.

Liberty Times reports, because the operation style of fishermen is unique, so employers should arrange the living conditions when the workers are at sea and on land. If employers don’t pay full wages, they will receive a maximum fine of NT$ 300,000 (approximately US$ 10,000) and be revoked of foreign workers. If agencies collect fees other than service fees, they will be fined as much as twenty times the amount they collected and will be suspended for at least three months.

In addition, in order to understand the living conditions of foreign fishermen when they are ashore to protect their rights and interests, local governments have inspectors that visit their living environments irregularly to help them adapt. If the workers don’t receive full wages or are overcharged by agencies, they can call 1955 and authorities will deal with the circumstances according to the law.

Translated by Olivia Yang