A social fisheries policy for Europe: ETF pushes Commission to protect migrant fishers and implement social partner agreements

25 Apr 2018

Brussels hosts many conferences, expos and political meetings, but there are only a few events that leave every hotel in town fully booked. The Brussels Seafood Expo is one of them.

Since this event is one of the most important moments in the global fishing calendar, the ETF was pleased to hear that the European Commission would organise a panel discussion on ‘The social dimension of fisheries’ in the presence of Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella. This shows the growing and long overdue interest from policymakers for the social aspects of fisheries regulation. Food safety and ecological sustainability matter hugely, but so do the people who bring our fish and seafood to land.

Flemming Smidt, vice-chair of the ETF Fisheries Section and of the Fisheries Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee, was invited to be one of the panelists. Other panelists included Alette van Leur, Director of the Sectoral Policies Department at the ILO, Manuel Barange, the FAO’s Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division, Huw Thomas, Senior Officer at the PEW Charitable Trusts, and Ment van der Zwan, Europêche Spokesperson in the Sectoral Social Dialogue in Sea-Fisheries.

Flemming took the chance to underline the need to mainstream the social dimension into EU fisheries legislation. He reminded the audience that, ‘during the consultation before the present Common Fisheries Policy was drafted, the ETF proposed solutions to tackle existing social problems in the sector. For example, we suggested making access to EU funds and the allocation of quotas and of fishing licenses conditional on respect of labour and social rights. If we had these rules in place today, it would be so much easier to deter appalling abuses like those that have been widely reported in the press in some EU countries’.

The EU must offer a more robust response to the shocking abuse of migrant fishers who work in the EU. Sadly, their conditions often amount to slavery. For example, Ireland has a well-documented problem with forced labour in fisheries, but the Irish government has ignored requests to meet with us and the European Commission.

Flemming welcomed recent progress in discussions with Europêche, the employers’ representatives for European fisheries and our social dialogue partner for the sector. We have reached various agreements and launched joint initiatives, such as a campaign to get EU member states to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s work in fishing convention C188. However, it is sometimes difficult to get our positions and proposals heard by the Commission. Even if we have seen progress over the last year, we expect a more proactive approach and improved efforts to coordinate actions among the different Commission DGs that deal with the socio-economic dimension of fisheries.

Finally, Flemming flagged up the need to ensure fairer freedom of movement for fishers. Currently there is no mutual recognition of fishers’ competences such as we see for other professions like doctors.