Pillars of the Sea

Social partners working together to make fisheries safer for all workers

Sea fishing remains one of the most dangerous professional activities in the world. Yet, for many years the attention of the legislators and policy makers has been focused on the environmental side of the sector. The ratification level of international conventions dedicated to working conditions in fisheries is terribly low. Lack of coordination between different units of national administrations and international bodies dealing with fisheries seem to be one of the key reason behind the current state.

For instance, the overarching ILO Convention Work in Fishing (ILO C188) has been ratified by only 10 countries, out of which three EU Member States. The Social Partners have been promoting the ratification of the Convention for years. To that end, we concluded in 2012 the Agreement on implementing the ILO Work in Fishing Convention, transferred into the EU law by the Council Directive (EU) 2017/159. However, this Directive still has to be implemented by the Member States.

The ILO C188 is relevant for example in regard to the occupational health of fishers. According to art. 10 of the Convention, no fisherman shall work on board a fishing vessel without a valid medical certificate. However, there are no specific guidelines for medical examination of fishers. It stands in contrast with the situation of merchant seafarers, who are covered by the joint ILO/IMO guidelines on medical examination. Certain countries use the latter to cover also fishers, but in reality these guidelines does not fit specificities of sea fishing. It means that there is no health surveillance or occupational disease prevention in the fisheries sector.

As a consequence, negligence in promoting decent working conditions in the fisheries sector leads to reduced interest in joining the profession by the EU citizens. This in turn contributed to the increased employment in the EU waters of migrant fishers (from non-EEA countries) who often end up working in precarious conditions or even fall victim to forced labour. Due to the specificities of the fisheries sector (working offshore for long periods of time), it is often overseen by the regulatory and enforcement bodies, making migrant fishers especially vulnerable.

Within this project the Social Partners want to draw attention to the issue of the international recruitment and placement of migrant fishers, as cases of abusive and fraudulent practices are still reality in the sector. We are therefore intending to map the existing international and EU legal environment on decent recruitment and private employment services in fisheries sector.In addition, there is need to provide practical guidelines for the vessels owners on how to ensure that the private employment agencies that they engage comply with human rights and international and EU labour regulations.

The project is composed of four pillars:

Pillar 1: Development of the guidelines on recruitment of migrant fishers.

Pillar 2: Development of the guidelines on medical examination of fishers.

Pillar 3: Upgrade of the ‘Fishery Speak’ app, an interactive glossary, providing an overview of the main phrases used on board.

Pillar 4: Advocacy for the ratification of the international instruments related to the working conditions in the fisheries sector (ILO Work in Fishing Convention, the Torremolinos Protocol and the STCW-F Convention) and implementation of their content.


The project is co-funded by the European Commission and will run from February 2019 till December 2020.

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Italian Government gives its greenlight for ratification of ILO Convention 188

The ETF welcomes the green light of the Italian Government for the ratification of the ILO Convention 188 “Work in fishing”. The ETF, together with ITF, will continue to ask as many countries as possible to ratify the Convention 188 and properly implement it. The Convention is a fundamental international instrument to protect fishers’ working conditions and rights.

30 Jan 2020

Pillars of the Sea 2 – Kick off meeting

ETF and Europêche will work together on a range of projects to guarantee safer and better work for fishers: guidelines for medical examinations and the recruitment of migrant fishers, an updated Fishery Speak app, and lobbying governments to follow international rules.

13 Jun 2019