Thank you for inviting me to this Committee. I would like to congratulate you – ETF (European Transport Workers Federation), Europêche and Cogeca – on your work. The Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Sea Fisheries is working well. I am glad to have this opportunity to talk to you. I want to use this time to outline some developments in the European fishing sector – and to illustrate the Commission is committed to ensuring strong social standards in the fishing sector.
Firstly let me address the point about a swift adoption of the proposal for a Council Directive on the implementation of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention C188, 2007.
On 13 October, the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council took a good decision. They agreed on the Commission's proposal to implement your framework agreement on the ILO Work in Fishing Convention of 2007. The Directive is likely to be adopted by Council in December. This is an excellent example of our ability to work together to improve living and working conditions. This Directive will help to reduce the risks that fishermen face at work.
Sea fishing vessels present many challenges. They can be related to the individual, for example; minimum age; medical "fit-for-work" certificate, working time limits, right of repatriation. They can be related to working conditions, for example; accommodation and food, occupational safety and health and medical care.
As a result of the efforts of the Dutch and Slovak Presidencies, it was possible to reach such an agreement. This shows the value of the EU social dialogue. While I am fully aware that the application of the Better Regulation agenda on this file raised some issues with you, the Commission's proportionate impact assessment was a very useful tool during the negotiations within the Council. It was critical to provide explanations to the delegates, ease Member States’ inter-ministerial work and alleviate some concerns. I encourage you to continue working with your partners in those Member States that have raised concerns about additional regulatory burden, in particular for small fishing vessels.
My second point regards social measures in the Common Fisheries Policy.
The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013 saw a strengthened role for the Advisory Councils. Their advice to the Commission and Members States on fisheries management also includes the socio-economic aspects of fisheries. Social partners are fully involved in the consultation process of all Advisory Councils, and many recommendations received each year concern issues related to the working conditions on board, including safety. My services take these recommendations very seriously and coordinate with the relevant services in other DGs to ensure appropriate follow-up.
I would also like to emphasize the importance devoted to health and safety issues in the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). In 2014, the Commission extended the categories of investments that could be financed in the fields of hygiene, health, safety and working conditions on board. Close to 4,400 projects are expected to be supported by 17 Member States, using EMFF Funds. Actually, it is the third most used measure in the EMFF and the second in the fisheries part. Nevertheless, by definition the EMFF is not the tool to introduce standards or guidelines in any field.
Article 32.1 states that to be supported, investments have to go beyond requirements under Union or national law. In addition, the EU has developed a comprehensive acquis of 28 Directives on health and safety at work. During transposition, Member States may establish measures that even go beyond the requirements in EU law. The general principles of prevention in the field of occupational health and safety are laid down in Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work. It is applicable to all sectors of economic activity, and therefore workers in the maritime sector enjoy the same level of protection as workers in other sectors.
Two EU Directives establishing minimum requirements for health and safety at work are specifically applicable to the maritime sector:
- Council Directive 93/103/EC concerning minimum safety and health requirements applicable to work on board fishing vessels;
- Council Directive 92/29/EEC on the minimum safety and health requirements for improved medical treatment on board vessels.
Establishment of a task force to tackle working conditions in fisheries, is my third point.
During these last two years, the European Commission has worked hard on the improvement of working conditions in fisheries. I know that you have been keen to see more of this. I am informed of your suggestion that a task force be established. Let me start by emphasising that even though I am sitting here as the Commissioner responsible for fisheries, I am in close contact with my fellow Commissioners Marianne Thyssen, Violeta Bulc, and Vera Jourova. This specifically to ensure coordinated action amongst all relevant Comission services. This is as close to a task force as you can get without the actual title.
I am happy to discuss this with you today, including on how we can advance our work jointly, and what can be done to have a more firm agenda for the actions on work and social conditions in the fisheries sector. We are eager to keep improving our work and continue to be open to dialogue on these issues.
There have been media reports exposing alleged cases of illegal labour practices in the European fisheries sector. Commissioner THYSSEN and I sent a letter addressed to all Member State Ministers responsible for Fisheries earlier this year, asking them whether they are aware of such practices and of any measures taken to address or prevent them. Member States have their role to play in the enforcement and monitoring of the situation at national level. Also internationally, the Commission – together with the EEAS – is taking up its responsibilities and is addressing issues relating to work and human rights in fishing. In recent months, we have observed increased awareness of the situation of labour in the fishing sector and some steps to improve working conditions in some sourcing countries. However, more still needs to be done, particularly on enforcement, with a view to prevent and reduce trafficking in human beings, forced labour, and other unacceptable forms of work. We must progressively eliminate the exploitation of workers, particularly migrant workers, in the fishing and seafood industry in line with the ILO Conventions and their Protocols.
Our fight against IUU is also contributing to the sustainable use of fishing resources in the world and to the level playing field between fishermen and operators. The objective is to ensure compliance with applicable rules through the improvement of fisheries governance and prohibition of trading of IUU fishing products. This objective needs to be followed in all areas in the world through multilateral actions and relevant organizations, either at global or regional level (e.g. FAO, RFMOs etc). Nevertheless, the IUU Regulation was not devised to be an instrument to fight labour abuses. Only in those cases where both offences are inherently interlinked, can it be resorted to for tackling labour-related crimes.
Let me know refer to the transposition of STCW-F Convention into EU law.
I am aware of your concerns regarding training and qualifications, safety at sea and your request to transpose the STCW-F Convention into EU law. However, according to the Commission’s Legal Services, a social partners' agreement implemented by a Council Decision - on a proposal from the Commission - is not appropriate, as most of the articles of the Convention fall outside the scope of the relevant treaty article.
As you are aware, the IMO has kicked off discussions for a review of this Convention in order to update its provisions which date back to 1995. A list of principles and a provisional definition of the scope of the review have been agreed. We would appreciate and welcome your views on this issue. We are closely following developments at IMO level and encourage you to raise any issue you may have with regard to the revision of this Convention.
I would also like to mention key actions in the framework of an EU co-funded project proposal.
The Commission, via DG EMPL, launches an annual call for proposals for projects promoting social dialogue at cross-industry and sectoral level. These projects help the social partner organisations contribute to EU employment and social policy challenges. More specifically, they seek to foster the implementation of European social dialogue outcomes, reinforce their impact and increase their visibility. The Commission has followed the project which Europeche has recently concluded with ETF with great interest.
This focused on four key issues:
- the contribution of the EMFF to the reinforcement of social dialogue;
- the production of a multilingual glossary for the safe navigation and operations on board fishing vessels;
- the promotion of the ratification of ILO work in fishing Convention (C188) and
- the production of a study on self-employment in fisheries in the European Union.
My last point is on ILO C188 & ocean governance.
Many of the challenges that the oceans face today need a global response. This is also true for the social aspects of maritime activities, including for the fishing industry. Fisheries is a highly globalised sector. We have a shared responsibility to take global action to protect our seas and develop the blue economy in a sustainable way. We would like to work with international partners on strengthening the application of international agreements on the working conditions of fishermen. We are currently finalising an ocean governance initiative to promote better implementation of the international regulatory framework. Its adoption is planned for the coming days.
Ladies and gentlemen, in closing I want to assure you once again that I believe in working closely with all stakeholders. Change is never possible without the support of entities like yourselves. I therefore count on and welcome your contributions for the benefit of those whose interest we all have at heart. I thank you for your attention and look forward to a fruitful discussion.
Check against delivery