After an international solidarity campaign secured the release of 43 detained fishing crew, the Citra Mina Workers’ Union has launched three union owned and operated boats.

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In August last year, Citra Mina fishers were abandoned by their employer, a tuna giant based in the Philippines, after they were detained by Indonesian authorities. They’d been on a fishing expedition for the company.

The foodworkers’ international, the IUF, the transport workers’ international ITF, and the Filipino trade union centre SENTRO, coordinated a successful international campaign for their release. Support poured in from all over the word, and the workers were reunited with their families in February this year.

Now the Citra Mina Workers’ Union and its allies celebrate the launch of three newly built fishing vessels owned and operated by the union.

After returning to the Philippines the abandoned crew testified at a Congressional hearing on human rights violations by Citra Mina. With Citra Mina refusing compensation, the union secured funds from the integrated livelihood program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to finance the construction of the boats. The boat launch was attended by DOLE Secretary Baldoz and Under-Secretary Chato.

The boats were built by the 43 returned fishing workers and will be crewed by them as part of the ‘Worker Safe’ tuna campaign that makes workers’ rights, decent working conditions and workers’ health and safety integral to the sustainability of the tuna industry in the Philippines.

Citra Mina had previously tried to break the union, refusing to recognise it, and sacking union members. The Citra Mina Workers Union continues to fight for the instatement of union leaders and members terminated nearly two years ago for exercising their human right to join a union. The company is the Philippines’ second largest exporter of tuna to North American, European and Asian markets under the Philfresh and Mommy Gina brand names.

However, despite Citra Mina’s billion dollar profits, its workers face precarious employment contracts, poor health and safety conditions, wages and social security disputes.

The boats will serve not only as a means of livelihood for the displaced workers of Citra Mina, but also as training vessels for the purpose of developing capacity and standards on how to run workers-safe fishing vessels. Moreover, this fishing-boat project will also develop a new system of employment for the fishing workers where their security of tenure is guaranteed; where their social benefits and welfare are granted, and where a fair and just sharing system is institutionalized for the maximized benefit and interest of the workers. In sum, it is intended to signal the end of the era of sacada system in the fishing industry which has enslaved, and caused the suffering of, the fishing workers for many decades.

This project highlights the positive impact of unionism for workers and society. It proves that the workers, and society as a whole, are better situated and benefitted by organizing themselves into a union. Without forming themselves into a union, the displaced workers of Citra Mina could have been plunged into a state of hopelessness and misery.

These are the victories that the workers’ union has achieved. The unwavering courage that the union has displayed has encouraged other workers to fight for their rights in many parts of the city. Indeed, courage is contagious. The days of contractualization and the sacada system is numbered.

 


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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