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Statement on the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining in the seafood industry

news 10 Jun 2019

Worker voice or welfare committee models are not an incremental step toward recognising workers’ right to organise. These mechanisms, generally established with company or NGO/CSO support, are viewed by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) or the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as an effort to sidestep legitimate, independent organising efforts by workers.

Workers’ rights to organise and bargain collectively are fundamental rights, as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98, and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Worker voice or welfare committee models are an affront to the fundamental principles of independent freedom of association and collective bargaining rights that give the illusion of representation. We see this as another opportunity for companies to claim that worker voice represents legitimate worker representation in their CSR reports without truly embracing freedom of association or collective bargaining with a trade union.

Companies can and should now – voluntarily and explicitly – recognise workers’ rights to freely associate, form and join their own independent trade unions, and collectively bargain with management. This is a true expression of workers’ voices.

Worker voice or welfare committees should not take the place of companies agreeing in writing to support the freedom of association and collective bargaining rights of their employees or their suppliers’ employees, in line with accepted international and ILO standards.

Companies should recognise legitimate, independent trade unions that represent their workforce and workers throughout their supply chain, and negotiate a binding contract with those workers in good faith covering all wages, benefits and working conditions.

The ITF and ITUC urge the seafood industry to adopt a labor rights-based approach, designed to ensure that seafood workers’ rights are protected by law and collective agreements.

Regardless of what the national law of any country says, we are calling on the industry to at a minimum actively support:

  • The full protection of all workers’ rights to organise and bargain collectively, with the first step being advocacy for the ratification and implementation of ILO Conventions 87 and 98 in every country involved in the seafood industry.
  • The ratification and effective implementation of ILO Convention 188 on Work in Fishing to fully protect the living and working conditions of fishers.
  • The ratification of the 2014 Protocol to ILO Convention 29 to ensure effective measures to prevent and eliminate forced labour prevalent in the fishing industry.
  • Worker-driven solutions that place unions and worker-led organisations at the center and in leadership roles in seafood industry monitoring and compliance initiatives.
  • UN agencies, the ILO, FAO, IMO and UNDOC, to continue efforts and cooperation on the development of international standards which can guide governments and companies in efforts to eliminate human rights abuses and establish decent working conditions in the sector.
  • The premise that multinational companies and enterprises have a duty to respect human rights under the UNGPs, the ILO MNE Declaration and the OECD MNE Guidelines. Due diligence for the right to bargain collectively recognises that enterprises must be prepared to bargain under a wide range of structures in countries where the law and practice does not provide a well-defined framework for bargaining, including negotiating with independent and representative organisations like the ITF Fishers’ Rights Network (FRN).

For more information, please contact Luke Menzies on +61 433 889 844 or by e-mail:

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is the global trade union confederation of 331 national trade unions from 163 countries representing 207 million workers. The ITUC adheres to the principles of trade union democracy and independence, defends workers’ rights and interests through international cooperation between trade unions, global campaigning and advocacy within the major global institutions.

The Fishers Rights Network (FRN) is the only independent trade union for fishers in Thailand and is an ITF Asia-Pacific regional project.

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