First tripartite social dialogue within the fishing sector

building decent working and in South Africa

Article | Cape Town | 08 May 2023

As a form of support to the Government of South Africa, the 8.7 Accelerator Lab initiative to accelerate the elimination of child labour and forced labour supported the tripartite social dialogue to address the effective realization of fundamental principles and rights at work for both national and foreign fishers in South Africa.
South Africa, being one of the first countries to have signed and ratified the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188), is often used as role model by other countries, for direction on the implementation of C188. The effective implementation of any International and National Labour Standard is only possible through social dialogue, which promotes the democratic involvement of the main stakeholders in the governance of the world of work. A common understanding of the challenges faced by workers, employers and government allows for solutions to overarching issues to be realised, voices to be heard and for sustainable progress towards decent work for all.

The 8.7 Accelerator Lab, having engaged individually with workers’ and employers’ organizations and relevant government organizations, brought together all stakeholders under one roof to further discuss issues that could only be addressed at a tripartite level through the tripartite social dialogue session that took place in Cape Town 22-24 March’23. Participants were from the three key constituents of ILO, being Business Unity South Africa(BUSA) and FishSA representing the Employers’ organizations, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), Trawler and line Fishermens’ Trade Union (TALFU), University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU), National Certified Food and Allied Workers Union(NACFAWU) representing the Workers’ organizations and government departments for Labour, Fisheries, the Maritime Safety Authority, the Bargaining Council for the Fishing Industry, Home Affairs and Civil Society.

The presentation from various experts in their field, and discussions that followed, highlighted that some of the gaps in the effective implementation of labour standards seen worldwide in the fishing. These include reported issues of excessive overtime and extreme fatigue, withholding of wages, insufficient shore leave, poor occupational safety and health, inadequate sleeping and ablution quarters, insufficient food and water provisions, sub-standard work agreements, just to name a few. Globally, some of the structural challenges that exist in addressing these deficits include weak or non-existent labour inspections of fishing vessels, fishers’ labour rights are often not well defined in labour law, overlapping legislation and governmental agency mandates and the complexity of transnational jurisdictions between flag States, port States, coastal States, and source States. As a result of these gaps, fishers may suffer many forms of labour rights violations and find themselves in situations of forced labour.

A session on International Labour Standards reminded everyone that “Forced labour does not exist in a vacuum, it is an extreme manifestation of gaps and failures in a wide range of policies, institutions and enforcement mechanisms. It, therefore, must be addressed in an integrated and coherent way, if forced labour and all related practices are to be eliminated for good.”- Amanda Mejia-Canadas, International Labour Standards Specialist

This tripartite social dialogue session highlighted the importance of social dialogue, recognising the fact that when workers, employers and government, jointly with civil society, work together, through dialogue, sharing information and communicating, they are able to open the doors for social justice to advance, and for the lives of fishers to be improved. Social partners expressed a common vision to ensure that safe and decent working conditions prevailed for fishers, which includes job security and a healthy fishing industry economy, thereby creating stability in the overall fishing industry. The dialogue concluded in a positive manner, with agreed points of action, the appointed task team will look at:
Formal collaboration between, DEL and SAMSA
Cooperation framework on issues of joint inspections
Move to ratify Protocol 29
Unanimous agreement to reform the existing bargaining model

Employers pledged their commitment and commended all other stakeholders to play their role, while workers agreed with employers and requested for training so they can understand the fishing sector better. Government reminded all about the South Africa Labour Relations Act, and if all stakeholders cooperate move for Decent work can be achieved in the fishing sector.