ILO conference moves to improve safety, working conditions in fishing sector

The ILO annual Conference takes a significant step toward improving the work and safety conditions of some 29 million people from Asia Pacific who work in one of the world’s most dangerous industries, the fishing sector.

Press release | BANGKOK | 16 June 2004

BANGKOK (ILO News) – Delegates at the annual conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) have taken a significant step toward improving the work and safety conditions of some 29 million people from Asia Pacific who work in one of the world’s most dangerous industries, the fishing sector.

Around 35 million people are employed in the fishing industry worldwide, 83 per cent of them from Asia Pacific. Asia also accounts for 3.1 million, more than 75 per cent, of the world’s fishing fleet, estimated at 4.1 million vessels.

The ILO Committee on Work in the Fishing Sector wrapped up its preliminary discussions on Tuesday. The Committee is trying to establish new international legal instruments that will revise existing ILO standards (five Conventions and two Recommendations) adopted between 1920 and 1966.

The existing ILO Conventions cover only about 10 per cent of those in the fisheries sector. The new standards would extend that to more than 90 per cent of the world’s fishermen and women.

“It is clearly important that no fisher slips inadvertently through the protective net of the Convention”, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said. “For the 35 million fishers in the world – most of whom are now excluded from coverage by existing labour standards – it will mean conditions of work that will enable them to continue to earn a living in decent conditions and in safety.”

If adopted, the new standards would reflect changes that have taken place in the fishing sectorover the past decades, which have seen rising consumption of fish as an animal protein source. Fishing contributes some US$ 50 billion a year to international trade in fishery commodities.

Seven of the world’s top 12 producers of fish are now in Asia. China is the world’s largest producer, with more than 17 million tonnes, followed by Japan and the USA. Other Asian countries in the top 12 are Indonesia, India , Thailand , South Korea and the Philippines.

Asian countries also feature prominently on lists of the world’s top fish importers and exporters – Thailand being the top exporter and Japan the leading importer (2000 figures).

The new standards would provide broad coverage for all those working in the fishing sector (including the self-employed and those paid on the basis of a share of the catch); have the flexibility to ensure wide-scale ratification and implementation; and include new provisions on safety and health to reduce the high rate of accidents and fatalities highlighted in earlier ILO reports. The standards would also include new provisions on compliance and enforcement of the standards, strengthening the role of both flag States and port States. Further discussions on the new measures will take place next year.

The ILO estimates that some 35 million people are engaged in capture fishing and aquaculture production worldwide, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries (83 per cent in Asia, 9 per cent in Africa, and 2.5 per cent in South America), with the rest divided among fish exporting countries in North America, Europe and the former Soviet Union. The world’s fishing fleet is comprised of some 1.3 million decked vessels and 2.8 million undecked vessels – again mostly in developing countries – where the small-scale fisheries sector provides about 45 per cent of the world’s total catch.

According to ILO estimates, fishing and related occupations are among the most dangerous of all work. Fatality rates can be many times higher than the national average (ranging from 150 to 180 per 100,000 workers, in different countries) and in some countries they are higher than those for fire-fighters or police. There is no overall figure for the number of accidents in the sector.

Occupational safety and working conditions in the sector are significant issues, since fish, including shellfish, remains a critical food source for many countries. Fish consumption, as a percentage of total animal protein consumption, ranges from 6 per cent in some countries to nearly 30 per cent in others. Production and consumption continue to grow – as does employment in the sector – primarily because of growing demand for fish and other seafood in wealthier countries.

New labour standards in this area would take into account the difficult working conditions in the sector as a whole, fishers working on smaller vessels in coastal waters and those working on larger vessels operating for longer periods at sea. The final report of the Committee will be presented to the plenary of the ILO 92nd annual International Labour Conference on Wednesday, 16 June, for formal adoption.

For more information visit: /public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc92/pdf/rep-v-1.pdf

1 Hours of Work (Fishing) Recommendation, 1920 (No. 7), Minimum Age (Fishermen) Convention, 1959 (No. 112), Medical Examination (Fishermen) Convention, 1959 (No. 113), Fishermen’s Articles of Agreement Convention, 1959 (No. 114), Fishermen’s Competency Certificates Convention, 1966 (No. 125), Accommodation of Crews (Fishermen) Convention, 1966 (No. 126), Vocational Training (Fishermen) Recommendation, 1966 (No. 126).

2 According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the top exporting countries in the year 2000 were Thailand , China , Norway , the United States , Canada , Denmark , Chile , Taiwan , China , Spain , Indonesia , Viet Nam and India . The top importing countries were Japan , the United Sates, Spain , France , Italy , Germany , United Kingdom , Hong Kong , China , Denmark , China , Canada and the Republic of Korea .

For more information please contact:
Sophy Fisher
Regional Information Officer
ILO Bangkok
Tel : + 66 2288 2482