International Labour Standards on Fishers

Over 58 million people are estimated to be engaged in the primary sector of capture fisheries and aquaculture. This includes 37 per cent engaged full time, 23 per cent engaged part time, and the rest working as either occasional fishers or of unspecified status. Over 15 million work full time on fishing vessels. Fishing involves long hours and strenuous activity in an often-challenging marine environment. Fishers may be using simple or complex dangerous machinery to catch, sort and store fish. Injury and fatality rates are much higher in the fishing sector than national averages for all workers in many countries. In the event of injury or illness at sea, fishers may be far from professional medical care and must rely on others on board for such care; medical evacuation services vary considerably between countries and regions. Fishing vessels may be at sea for long periods, operating in distant fishing grounds. Fishers often face difficulty in taking shore leave in foreign ports and problems obtaining visas allowing them to join or leave the vessel in foreign countries. Relationships between employers (often fishing vessel owners) and workers are diverse. There are two main types of payment system in the sector: the flat wage and the share system. A flat wage is a fixed salary per pay period. Under a share system contract, fishers earn a percentage of the gross revenue or profit of the particular fishing trip. Sometimes fishers may be paid a low minimum wage, with the rest of their pay being based on a share of the catch or on bonuses (for example, for finding fish). In many countries, these arrangements place fishers in the category of “self-employed”. To respond to the needs of workers engaged in fishing, the ILO has developed specific standards for their protection. In view of the importance of the fishing industry and the developments that have taken place since the adoption of fishing standards in 1959 and 1966, respectively, and bearing in mind that fishing vessels are specifically excluded from the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, the International Labour Conference adopted at its 97th Session the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), and the Work in Fishing Recommendation, 2007 (No. 199), which are intended to set comprehensive standards addressing the living and working conditions of fishers. Convention No. 188 entered into force on 16 November 2017.

Taking into account the need to revise the Conventions adopted by the International Labour Conference specifically concerning the fishing sector, namely the Minimum Age (Fishermen) Convention, 1959 (No. 112), the Medical Examination (Fishermen) Convention, 1959 (No. 113), the Fishermen’s Articles of Agreement Convention, 1959 (No. 114), and the Accommodation of Crews (Fishermen) Convention, 1966 (No. 126), Convention No. 188 updates these instruments and aims to reach a greater number of the world’s fishers, particularly those working on smaller vessels.

Relevant ILO instruments

  • Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) - [ratifications] and Work in Fishing Recommendation, 2007 (No. 199)
    The objective of this Convention and Recommendation is to ensure that fishers shall have decent conditions of work on board fishing vessels with regard to minimum requirements for work on board, conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, medical care and social security.

    Amongst the many improvements, the new Convention:
    - raises the minimum age for work on board a fishing vessels to 16 years;
    - it fixes the maximum period of validity of a medical certificate to two years;
    - it requires the adoption of laws regarding minimum levels of crewing and defines minimum periods of daily and weekly rest for vessels remaining at sea for more than three days;
    - it establishes fishers’ entitlement to repatriation at the cost of the fishing vessel owner; and
    - finally, it incorporates port State control provisions modelled on those applicable in the maritime sector.
  • Further relevant instruments

Older ILO instrument

  • Fishermen’s Competency Certificates Convention, 1966 (No. 125) – [ratifications]
    The Convention requires ratifying States to establish standards of qualification for certificates of competency for the skipper, mate or engineer on board a fishing vessel, and to organize and supervise the examination of candidates to ensure that they have the necessary qualifications. It sets forth the minimum age and minimum professional experience necessary for each profession, the competences necessary for specific categories and the grades of certificates for which candidates have to prove their qualification.

Further information

Transport and Maritime Unit (SECTOR