PROVING the long – or global – arm of the labor movement, Belgian trade unionists picketed the international seafood trade event in Brussels and “visited” the Philippine pavilion to protest the participation of Citra Mina’s Philfresh Corp. for its blatant disregard for the workers’ rights and welfare.
Members of the General Federation of Belgian Labor (ABVV-FGTB) demonstrated outside the expo venue, distributed leaflets, talked to Philippine fishery and agriculture representatives (BFAR and DA), and waited for Citra Mina delegates to express their dismay over the systematic violations of labor and trade union rights in Citra Mina.
“This is just the start of a global action against Citra Mina. If it would not mend its ways – reinstate the workers it illegally sacked to bust the union, pay them backwages and recognize their union, etc. – this ‘rotten apple’ could even drag the whole Philippine tuna industry down with it,” Josua Mata, SENTRO secretary general, warned.
Mata revealed that the said solidarity-protest action of the ABVV-FGTB has likely attracted the attention of the European Union (EU), which should raise a concern from the Philippine fish exporters as the country was recently given GSP or Generalized System of Preferences Plus benefits, notably tariff privileges.
But the GSP Plus requires a country to adhere to 27 international conventions, including the ILO Core Labor Standards, many of which are brazenly violated by Citra Mina, Mata noted.
Among the growing list of Citra Mina’s “crimes” are the arbitrary termination of 238 workers in 2013 for organizing a union, various threats against striking workers and union supporters, purported “disappearances” onboard fishing vessels of workers who complain of company abuses, unsafe and slave-like working conditions, blacklisting to keep workers in line, forced labor, rampant use of labor and fishing subcontracting called “cabo” system, alleged human trafficking and illegal fishing.
Citra Mina’s cabo and illegal fishing practices have in fact resulted to the most recent controversy involving this increasingly notorious firm: Its contracted out fishing boat’s 43 fishermen were abandoned in a prison facility in Indonesia after they were apprehended last August. They were freed and repatriated back to the country in late February but only after a joint campaign by SENTRO and the global union IUF, and in coordination with the Philippine government.
The Citra Mina Group of Companies is a top General Santos City-based fishing and fish/seafood processing company owned by the family of Joaquin T. Lu. It is also the country’s second biggest tuna exporter under the Philfresh brand.
The Seafood Expo Global/Seafood Processing Global is the world’s largest seafood trade fair conducted annually and attended by more than 1,700 exhibiting companies from over 75 countries. This year’s expo runs from April 21-23.
SENTRO is the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa; while the Geneva-based IUF is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.