An international trade union delegation comprising the IUF, the IUF European regional organization EFFAT-IUF, the Belgian Food and Service Workers’ Union CCAS-CSC, the Norwegian Food Workers’ Union NNN and two members of a trade union from General Santos City in the Philippines which is leading the fight to ensure respect for international human rights standards in the country’s massive tuna industry, will be in Brussels on April 24 for talks with the EU’s Directorate General for Trade.
Under the EU’s GSP+ system, tuna exports from the Philippines receive tariff-free entry into the European market on condition that minimum rights standards are respected. To date, there has been little progress.
In 2013, the Citra Mina Group of Companies, among the largest tuna exporters in General Santos, terminated hundreds of workers for exercising their human right to form a trade union. Their fight for rights, recognition and reinstatement continues to this day, and has become the Philippines’ longest-running high-profile labour conflict.
In 2015, congressional hearings in the Philippines detailed the Citra Mina Group's pattern of abuses: systematic violations of labour standards and trade union rights, rampant abuse of precarious employment and shell companies to evade legal obligations, slave-like conditions on boats and deaths on the high seas. Hundreds of trafficked crew members detained for illegal fishing in Indonesian waters have received no assistance from the company. This year, Congressional Representative Tom Villarin cited the entrenched pattern of rights violations by Citra Mina as a cruel symptom of the government’s failure to enforce respect for the international human rights standards it has signed onto and pledged to implement. And Citra Mina, he said, was only the tip of the iceberg. The government’s failure to hold Citra Mina to account for these violations is the subject of a complaint before the United Nations’ ILO Committee on Freedom of Association submitted by the IUF last year.
The IUF insists that the EU can make much more effective use of the mechanisms established under GSP+, and that it has a clear responsibility to take firm action in defense of the industry’s workers order to raise standards for the fishing sector as a whole.
The unions will also be bringing this message to the annual Brussels Seafood Expo the following day, the world’s largest commercial sea food fair where both Citra Mina and the government of Philippines will be participating.