BANGKOK, Nov 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - People in the fishing industry lack clear ways of complaining about abusive working conditions or seeking redress from employers because too many different government departments are involved in protecting their rights, legal experts said on Monday.
Globally, more than 30 million people work in the fishing industry, over half of whom are in full-time employment on fishing boats, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in an industry that has come under fire for human rights abuses.
A study of fishing industry legislation in 13 countries as well as the European Union published this month by international law firm Linklaters found that even though most of the countries had robust legislation, they struggled with enforcement.
"The biggest challenge is enforcement because responsibility for this area is often quite fragmented," said Ben Carroll, a partner at Linklaters.
"That creates a real challenge for regulators trying to make sure that nothing falls between the cracks."
The Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and China all use government ministries to oversee their fishing industries, which may not always be fisheries-specific but could fall under the auspices of the ministry of labour or agriculture, the study found.
By contrast, Britain, Germany and South Africa, which were also part of the study, have a specific body which either licenses or has the right to inspect fishing vessels.
"Because accountability is spread amongst a number of agencies and departments, there is no clear avenue to make complaints or seek redress," the report said about the Philippines.
Several Filipino government agencies, including the Department of Employment and the Coast Guard recently signed a memorandum to improve collaboration.
"The problem is that each agency thinks it's the other agency's problem," said Sarah Barnard, an associate an Linklaters.
Other countries included in the study, facilitated by Trustlaw, the pro bono legal service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation on behalf of the Filipino Visayan Forum were Spain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union.
Only five countries - Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Morocco and South Africa - have signed an ILO convention adopted eight years ago aimed at ensuring decent working conditions in the fishing industry. (Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org to see more stories)