Southeast Asia’s migrant fishery workers have been excluded from government support programmes launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating their hardship during the crisis, the United Nations labour agency said on Tuesday.
Governments have overlooked migrant workers in the fishing and seafood processing industries, treating them as “out of sight, out of mind” with policies that limit their movement and provide little oversight of working conditions, according to a report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
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A lack of reliable data about the industry’s workforce and conditions contributed to migrant workers not receiving financial support such as relief payments and unemployment benefits, according to the report titled “Rough Seas: The impact of COVID-19 on fishing workers in South-East Asia”.
The ILO, which published the report with Cornell University, said the situation highlighted the need for increased transparency in corporate practices and better data collection to ensure workers do not fall into policy blind spots during and after the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hit the fishing and seafood processing industries in Southeast Asia hard and migrant workers the hardest,” said Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
“Continued efforts to promote international labour standards and inclusive government policies are needed to address underlying protection gaps for workers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a severe impact on jobs, incomes and livelihoods in Southeast Asia’s fisheries industry.
In Thailand and the Philippines, the average number of hours worked per employee in 2020 fell 15.4 percent and 9.1 percent respectively, according to ILO data.
“Many fishing and seafood workers in Southeast Asia already had it bad,” said Jason Judd, executive director of the Cornell University New Conversations Project. “Labour protections and labour law enforcement – for at-home and migrant workers – have long been weak. The COVID-19 pandemic was a stress test for these protections and this new research shows that there is lots of work to do.”
Giuseppe Busini, deputy head of mission of the European Union Delegation to Thailand, said the pandemic had “exacerbated inequalities, disrupting our societies and economies”.
“It has taken an even bigger toll on the most vulnerable segments of society, as clearly highlighted by the report,” Busini said. “Post COVID-19 recovery gives us a positive opportunity to integrate the sustainable development principles in public policies and our daily lives.”