Frustration among crews from Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire working on Spanish- and French-owned tuna vessels fishing in the Gulf of Guinea and Indian Ocean led led to strike actions affecting some 64 vessels or 80% of the fleet last week.
According to Spanish and French sources, the strike ended after four days, enabling the Spanish- and French-owned vessels to return to sea. But unions remain critical of the structure under which local crews are employed on these vessels – with claims that many are paid at rates significantly below the required minimim.
‘These agreements signed between the EU Commission and a number of countries in the global south are massively lucrative for the French and Spanish firms whose vessels are licenced to fish for tuna,’ said Yoro Kane, General Secretary of fishers’ union UDTS in Senegal.
‘The agreements provide for the locally employed fishers to as a minimum obtain the ILO seafarer’s minimum salary, currently $658 per month. The reality is that this is not observed, with some being paid as little as one third of this figure. A campaign has been waged by unions from Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, the main labour-providing countries, to force the French and Spanish employers to engage with us on this and many other grievances.’
He stated that employers have declined to engage, and a month’s notice was served on then that strike action would take place.
‘Hence our action last week, which on the basis of discussions brokered by the Senegalese and Ivorian authorities we have suspended. Further discussions with the employers are scheduled. The question has to be answered by the EU Commission and the authorities locally as to why we have to wage such struggles to obtain what is already promised in black and white in the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements?’ Yoro Kane said.
According to Johnny Hansen, Chair of the Fisheries Section of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the struggle by Senegalese and Ivorian fishers is viewed sympathetically by the international trade union community.
‘It beggars belief that super-profitable companies and the government authorities, benefiting from highly advantageous fishing agreements negotiated for them by the EU Commission, think it is acceptable to disregard the clear provision for the ILO seafarer’s minimum basic wage for an able seaman,’ he commented.
‘I noted with particular concern the detentions by the authorities in the Seychelles of some striking fishers, though since released. To peacefully withdraw one’s labour is a fundamental human right and should be respected by the authorities.’
He assured the fishermen in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire that they and their unions can count on the support of the movement in Europe, and that ITF will raise the issue with the French and Spanish employers, the EU Commission and companies along the supply chains within Europe.
‘The ITF believes that fishers should be treated equal to their seafarer colleagues in merchant shipping covered by comprehensive collective bargaining agreements covering pay and all conditions of work,’ Johnny Hansen said.
‘They should be entitled as minimum to the ILO minimum basic wage of $658 and the ITF minimum consolidated wage of $1,156 in 2023, or the minimum wage of the flag state should be applied, whichever is higher, unless otherwise agreed in already historically existing national collective bargaining agreements.”