The United States Department of State has released a report on the status of Trafficking in Persons. The report, published in July 2022, mentions the decline in Indonesia’s ranking. Previously, Indonesia’s ranking was at Tier-2 in 2021 to Tier-2 Watch.
Three important notes became the findings of the country nicknamed Uncle Sam in its report, namely:
i) the failure of the Indonesian government to deal with the crime of trafficking in persons,
ii) decreased efforts to investigate crimes of trafficking in persons in the past five years and reduced penalties for crimes of trafficking in persons in four years, and
iii) weak coordination between anti-trafficking task forces between the centre and the regions in implementing national and regional action plans. The report also describes explicitly the findings and facts that occurred in the capture fisheries sector. A dark and high-risk industry for workers, especially those who work on foreign fishing vessels.
The United State Departement of State report is in line with the testimony of one of the early fisheries. In February 2022, a fishing vessel crew in Bitung city, North Sulawesi, named Radjab Macpal, said that many young people from his hometown were tempted to work on foreign fishing vessels.
“They are attracted because of the lure of high salaries, namely USD 300-450,” said Radjab.
Unfortunately, the desire to work on foreign fishing vessels is not accompanied by sufficient readiness and knowledge of work risks and administrative requirements.
“They leave without sufficient knowledge of technical skills, administrative requirements, knowledge of manning agents and the country of destination,” he said.
As a result, some of them came home from work without success because their employers cheated them. “Ironically, they are reluctant to report this because they are ashamed and don’t know where to report it,” said Radjab.
Radjab’s statement is similar to reports and complaints from the National Fishers Center. Manager of the National Fishers Center, Imam Trihatmadja, said that in 2021-June 2022, his party received 41 complaints from fishing vessel crews, comprising 157 victims. “The victims are those who work on domestic fishing vessels and foreign fishing vessels, including Dobo, Muara Baru, Benoa, Africa, China and the Pacific,” said Imam.
The National Fishers Center is a collaborative platform established by Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia to provide education, campaign facilities, case complaints, and data management. “This platform provides online services, and we will develop it digitally so that it can reach fishing vessel crews widely,” said Imam.
Not only as a complaint service, but the National Fishers Center also provides other information about rules and regulations for ship crews, manning agents registered with the government, fish processing units, and discussion forums between crew members.
To protect migrant workers, including fishing sailors, the Indonesian government has issued Law no. 18/2017 concerning the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers.
Articles 40, 41 and 42 of Law no. 18/2017, in stages, mandate local governments’ roles, duties and responsibilities, which include provinces, districts/cities, and villages. However, the implementation of the duties and responsibilities of local governments has not been optimal. One problem arises from the lack of support for strategies, programs and budgeting at the district/city level to implement the law.
“For example, Article 41 states that districts/cities must establish a database of Indonesian migrant workers,” said Imam.
So far, there has been no effort in the form of action plans and strategies to start building a data collection of migrant workers at the district/city level. “The potential problem is getting worse because many recruitment activities for migrant workers, including fishing sailors, are carried out by illegal manning agents,” said Imam.
The illegal category is a manning agent who does not have a recruitment and placement permit issued by the labour or maritime-related authority in Indonesia. According to a source from one of the labour sector officials in Indonesia, currently, on the north coast of Java, there are about 250 manning illegal agents. So, the tangled thread of fisheries seafarer governance in Indonesia stems from the recruitment system and mechanism.
Baktarina Masala, the Village Head of Batu Putih Bawah, Bitung City, North Sulawesi Province, took the initiative to build a community-based early detection and prevention system. He did not want his citizens to become victims of forced labour and human trafficking.
“The sub-district government and the community have agreed to establish an Institute for the Protection of Fisheries and Fishermen in Batu Putih Bawah Village,” Baktarina said. This organization is known as the Friend of the Protection of Fisheries and Fisherman Vessels, or SPAN, and it was founded on September 21, 2022, by Decree of the Village Head of Batu Putih Bawah No. 971/SK/BTB.P/IX/2022.
“This SPAN provides education and information services to fishing boat crews and fishermen to get protection and safety when working at sea,” said Baktarina.
Baktarina appointed Radjab Macpal as chairman of the institution. “As a former crew member, Radjab has knowledge, insight and experience working at sea so that he can share experiences and information with other residents on how to be a good crew member,” said Baktarina.
In the provisions of Article 42, Law 18/2017, the roles and responsibilities of the village government are stated, among others: i) receiving and providing information and employment requests from agencies that administer government affairs in the manpower sector, ii) data verification and documentation of prospective Indonesian migrant workers, and iii) facilitating prospective Indonesian migrant workers’ compliance with population administration requirements.
“With the existing limitations, it is certainly difficult for us to carry out this role optimally,” said Baktarina.
DFW Indonesia researcher Cindy Mudeng said that the city of Bitung is one of the destinations and the pocket or origin of fishing boat crews. Many Bitung residents work on foreign flag fishing vessels, especially in Taiwan and South Korea. “There is no data on their number because the Bitung city government has never collected data on the number and distribution of migrant crew members from Bitung city,” said Cindy.
Cindy supports the efforts of the Batu Putih Bawah Village Head to build an early detection system at the village level. “It is better to collect data on fishing seafarers starting at the village level and contribute it to the Bitung city government in stages,” said Cindy. This is in line with Article 41, Law 18/2017, where districts and cities are obliged to build a database of migrant workers.