International Labour Standards on Fishers

An estimated 58.3 million people are engaged in the primary sector of capture fisheries and aquaculture. This includes 37 per cent engaged full time, 23 per cent engaged part time, and the rest working as either occasional fishers or of unspecified status (FAO 2014). Fishing involves long hours and strenuous activity in an often challenging marine environment. Fishers may be using simple or complex dangerous machinery to catch, sort and store fish. Injury and fatality rates are much higher in the fishing sector than national averages for all workers in many countries. In the event of injury or illness at sea, fishers may be far from professional medical care and must rely on others on board for such care; medical evacuation services vary considerably among countries and regions. Fishing vessels may be at sea for long periods, operating in distant fishing grounds. Fishers often face difficulty in taking shore leave in foreign ports and problems obtaining visas allowing them to join or leave the vessel in foreign countries. Relationships between employers (fishing vessel owners) and workers are diverse. There are two main types of payment system in the sector: the flat wage and the share system. A flat wage is a fixed salary per pay period. Under a share system contract, fishers earn a percentage of the gross revenue or profit of the particular fishing trip. Sometimes fishers may be paid a low minimum wage, the rest of their pay being based on a share of the catch or on bonuses. In many countries, these arrangements place fishers in the category of “self-employed”. To respond to the specific needs of workers engaged in fishing, the ILO has developed standards specifically aimed at providing protection for the men and women who work in this sector. In view of the importance of the fishing industry and the developments that have taken place since the adoption of fishing standards in 1959 and 1966 respectively and bearing in mind that fishing vessels were specifically excluded from the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, the International Labour Conference adopted during its 97th session the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) and Work in Fishing Recommendation, 2007 (No. 199), which are aimed to be comprehensive standards addressing living and working conditions of fishers.

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) - [ratifications] and Work in Fishing Recommendation, 2007 (No. 199)
    The objective of this Convention and Recommendation is to ensure that fishers shall have decent conditions of work on board fishing vessels with regard to minimum requirements for work on board, conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, medical care and social security.

    Amongst the many improvements, the new Convention:
    - raises the minimum age for work on board a fishing vessels to 16 years;
    - it fixes the maximum period of validity of a medical certificate to 2 years;
    - it requires the adoption of laws regarding minimum levels of crewing and defines minimum periods of daily and weekly rest for vessels remaining at sea for more than 3 days;
    - it establishes fishers’ entitlement to repatriation at the cost of the fishing vessel owner;
    - and finally, it incorporates port state control provisions modelled after those applicable in the shipping industry.
  • Further relevant instruments