Finding Filipino Fishermen: Infrastructure, Institutions and Illegibility in the Deployment of Sea-Based Labour in the Philippines

Hazel Dizon, Work at Sea Project, York Centre for Asian Research, York University; Philip Kelly, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University


Work at Sea: Regional and Global Perspective on Southeast Asian Migrant Workers in Industrial Fishing - Recruitment, Migration, Reproduction


Among the millions of overseas workers deployed from the Philippines each year, a small and easily-overlooked contingent supply the crews of fishing vessels engaged in deep sea operations in international waters. Official figures (undoubtedly therefore an underestimate) suggest that approximately 7,000 Filipino men are sent every year to work on such fishing fleets—many of them based out of Taiwan. Of all the possible deployments for Overseas Filipino Workers, these fishing vessels are perhaps the most inherently dangerous workplaces and involve labour relations that are the most open to abuse. While labour conditions in the fishing industry have been widely assessed and criticized, much less is known concerning what Xiang and Lindquist (2014, 122) call the “migration infrastructure”—“the systematically interlinked technologies, institutions, and actors that facilitate and condition mobility”—which in this case serves to record, recruit, train, deploy and regulate such workers. Using administrative data collected by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and interviews with government officials, NGOs, manning agencies, and training institutions, this paper seeks to develop an understanding of the infrastructure that delivers labour from the Philippines to Asian (and especially Taiwanese) fishing vessels. Ultimately, however, our goal is to understand what aspects of recruitment practices, training, workers’ experiences, and the actions of employers are made legible through data collection to the authorities tasked with protecting workers. And, conversely, which aspects of practices in the industry that supplies labour, and the industry that supplies fish, are rendered invisible to regulatory authorities.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |