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An Indonesian fisherman complained of being given the cold shoulder by the local labor office despite several complaints of abuse.

Abused by Employer, an Indonesian Fisherman Appeals to Taiwan's Parliament

2018/06/01 , News
Nick Aspinwall
Photo Credit: Nick Aspwinwall
Nick Aspinwall
Nick Aspinwall is a journalist based in Taipei and an editor-at-large for The News Lens. He has also written for The Diplomat and News Deeply. When he’s not reporting, he can be found on a diving boat or perhaps stranded deep within a remote mountain range.

An Indonesian fisherman named Safrudin appeared at the offices of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan today, the country's parliament, to recount a story of abuse and malnourishment at the hands of his employer in Yilan County, Taiwan.

Speaking through an interpreter, Safrudin – wearing a baseball cap and a mask to conceal his face – told Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Mary Chen (陳曼麗) and several officials from the Ministry of Labor (MoL) that his working conditions had deteriorated to the point where he had to leave his job as an offshore fisherman on the Man Chen No. 66 and seek shelter.

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Photo Credit: Nick Aspinwall
Safrudin (L) speaks to DPP lawmaker Mary Chen (C) and several Labor Ministry officials.

The case comes in the immediate aftermath of a Greenpeace investigation into abusive practices within Taiwan's lucrative fishing industry. A series of reports by The News Lens further details a dangerous environment for workers, laden with corporate complicity and regulatory weakness.

A video was shot directly after Safrudin was punched by his employer’s son in the Yilan County Labor Office on May 10, 2018. In the video, Safrudin, trembling with fear, is berated by his employer’s son, who accuses Safrudin of “bullying” his father. (The employer and his son have not been identified and did not attend today’s press conference.)

After the incident, Safrudin sought refuge in a shelter operated by Serve the People Association (SPA), a workers' rights NGO, in Taoyuan, where he remains today. Safrudin had filed several prior complaints with the Yilan County Labor Office.

The 41-year-old has opted not to show his face in public as he still wishes to transfer to another employer and “doesn’t want to be seen as a troublemaker,” said Allison Lee (李麗華) of the Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union (YMFU).

MoL official Chuang Guo-liang (莊國良) said the Yilan County Labor Bureau failed to help Safrudin seek shelter after his initial complaint and should have aided him immediately.

Lee said Safrudin was not legally registered by his brokerage firm, Shen Pei He (盛沛和國際管理顧問有限公司), after transferring from his previous offshore fishing job in Yilan County.

Chuang said his agency would re-evaluate the brokerage firm to ensure its compliance with its guidelines. A nationwide brokerage evaluation process is underway. Taiwan NGOs have called for greater transparency in the assessment.

At the press conference, Safrudin – speaking softly and with hesitance – told attendees he and his crewmates did not receive food for long periods. He complained to his broker, he said, but he did not receive assistance until Lee and YMFU became involved in his case.

Lennon Ying-dah Wong (汪英達) of SPA said the MoL response was “typical,” but was encouraged that the ministry was willing to reevaluate Safrudin’s former broker.

He and other members of a newly formed NGO coalition advocating for fishermen’s rights have expressed optimism that the Council of Agriculture (CoA) is willing to work with them. However, they remain skeptical of the CoA's beleaguered Fisheries Agency, the government agency in charge of regulating fishery activities and labor conditions at sea.

NGO coalition members met with government officials and academics on Monday afternoon.

In a statement to The News Lens, Fisheries Agency official Cheng You-hua (鄭又華) said that the members of the NGO coalition “fully expressed their opinions and ideas in the meeting.”

“At the end, the parties agreed that the communication should continue,” she said. “The relevant units and groups will be invited to hold meetings in the future.”

At Monday's meeting, CoA Vice Minister Dr. Chen Ji-zhong (陳吉仲) proposed another meeting in July. NGO coalition members hope to have this meeting and continue to call for a spirit of open, transparent dialogue.

“The meeting was productive,” Chiu Shao-chi (邱劭琪) of the Environmental Justice Foundation told The News Lens. “We hope that in the coming months we will see the Taiwanese government significantly enhance protections for migrant workers on fishing vessels and make the fleet more transparent.”

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