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Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to improve working conditions of foreign seafarers

Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries made an official statement regarding systemic approach to protect the human rights and improve working conditions of foreign seafarers in South Korea.

Domestic seafarers have been avoiding seafaring industry due to its nature of hazardous and strenuous working conditions. Employment of foreign seafarers in domestic industry has been growing steadily from 14.8% in 2014 to 17.2% in 2018, filling the gap. Based on such trend, there has been serious concerns and issues raised regarding human rights violation, excessive expense, and hazardous working and living conditions.

In response, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced a ‘plan to improve the human rights issues and management system of foreign seafarers’ to ensure basic treatment of foreign seafarers, such as improving working conditions, and to establish a management system suitable for national prestige by addressing human rights violations.

The plan includes measures to enhance the public nature of the system of introducing foreign seafarers, to protect human rights through a joint survey of the public and private sectors on foreign ships, to improve the working environment by preparing standards for accommodation, drinking water, and meals for foreign seafarers, to improve the system for systematic management of foreign seafarers, and to improve the education system such as Korean language, and education for working poor people.

Firstly, Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the governments of major countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines to request the local government to strengthen management and supervision of local companies in the short term, and plans to form a pool of foreign seafarers under the supervision of local governments or public organizations in the long term.

In addition, the government will strengthen the public nature of domestic transmission procedures centering on the Suhyup. It plans to strengthen the management and supervision of the transporters by linking the evaluation of the transporters of Suhyup with the quota for the allocation of foreign seafarers, and to reorganize the Suhyup so that it can manage the introduction of foreign ships and vessels.

Secondly, it also plans to actively respond to human rights issues raised against foreign seafarers. According to a survey* by the Korea Sailor Employment and Welfare Center, 28 percent of respondents said they experienced human rights violations. In order to resolve these cases of human rights violations, the government plans to conduct joint on-site investigations with human rights groups, and expand the inspection of foreign seafarers (once a year → twice a year) to take stern measures against violations of related laws. In addition, officials in the fisheries sector will be designated as ombudsman to monitor the daily lives of foreign seafarers.

Moreover, since foreign seafarers have difficulty in reporting due to language barrier, when complaints are received through the foreign crew call center operated by the Korea Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives and the crew employment and welfare center, they are required to deal with difficulties in connection with the crew labor supervisor of the local government. In addition, if a prison sentence is confirmed for human rights violations, the government plans to restrict the assignment of foreign seafarers to the ship, require officials to cancel their termination licenses, and give incentives to exemplary shipowners who fully guaranteed the rights of foreign seafarers.

Thirdly, the government plans to prepare accommodation standards for foreign seafarers for ships and vessels weighing more than 20 tons and actively seek ways to ease the burden on ship owners, including projects to support joint dormitories.

In addition, a total of 170 billion won worth of safety funds will be created to improve the living conditions of poor deep-sea fishermen. It will also provide support for the replacement of new fishing boats to secure proper living space and proper lighting, and expand wireless communication networks such as Wi-Fi on board the ship so that foreign sailors can contact their family and friends. In addition, on-board meal service standards will be established so that deep-sea fishermen can eat quality meals.

It will also improve working conditions, including wages for foreign sailors. Wages for foreign sailors aboard the ocean fishing boats are currently paid above the international minimum wage set by the International Transport Workers’ Union (ITF), but the government plans to form a labor-management-government T/F to make wages more realistic. It also plans to actively review the ratification of the International Labor Organization (ILO) C.1888, which aims to fundamentally improve the working conditions of poor fishing boatmen, including excessive working hours.

The proper training will also be reorganized to focus on Korean language and onsite training for foreign seafarers. In order to internalize local education for one month before entering the country, the government will develop standard textbooks such as Korean language and communication skills, and conduct separate evaluations when completing the training to select crew members with more than a certain level of capability.

In order to secure safety, the three-day curriculum will be reorganized to focus on practical training such as fire control and survival swimming, and local language education will be provided on how to respond to grievances and how to report them.

  • This is based on published statement of Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries