Cornell University: Pandemic worsened inequality for migrant fishers

The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in the international fishing industry, according to a new report from Cornell researchers and the International Labour Organization (ILO), who will present their findings at a virtual webinar April 27.

Problems facing fishing industry workers include a decline in employment due to temporary port closures, wage theft, lack of personal protective equipment and their exclusion from pandemic relief programs.

In their brief, “Rough Seas: COVID’s Impact on Work in Fishing”, researchers from the ILR School’s New Conversations Project and the ILO’s Ship to Shore Rights Project, argue that policies must be put into place to ensure that support reaches the workers and enterprises needing it most.

“Migrant fishers in Southeast Asia are at the bottom of a long list of workers that governments, employers and global seafood buyers worried about at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jason Judd, New Conversations Project executive director. “Fishing and seafood workers already had it bad. Labor protections and labor law enforcement have been weak, for both at-home and migrant workers. But COVID was a sort of stress test for these protections and there’s lots of work to do.”

In the report, the researchers analyzed trade and employment data, and conducted interviews with 10 key informants – including representatives of international seafood buyers who source from countries that make up the ILO Ship to Shore Rights Project’s implementation area. They found that despite pre-pandemic attention to the industry’s labor practices and promises of reform, inadequacies remain.

This was especially true for migrant fishers in the industry, who regularly endure a lack of protection, researchers said.

The New Conversations Project will host a presentation and a debate about the significance of their findings on Wednesday, April 27 at 10 p.m. The panel will include representatives from the New Conversations Project, the ILO, Fishers’ Rights Network/ITF and the Thai Tuna Industry Association, among others.

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