Ghana’s effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflects a national commitment to improve the wellbeing of citizens and the environment; leaving no one behind. This effort, outlined in the 2022 Voluntary National Review Report (VNRR), signed by the President and,launched by the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) in August, indicates a mixed progress in the implementation status of the SDGs; bringing afore, the impact of emerging challenges such the COVID-19 on global, national, and local economies. The VNRR shows, among other things, improved outcomes in tackling Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) while acknowledging challenges of high unemployment rate among the youth and declining fish stocks.
The ILO’s 8.7. Accelerator Lab. Programme, designed to shore up global efforts to achieve Target 8.7. of the SDGs, through support for the acceleration of national impactful actions starting with the fishing sector in Ghana, South Africa and Indonesia, provides an important opportunity for stakeholders in the blue economy to address decent work deficits in the marine fisheries sub-sector. The strategy of the ILO reinforces the capacity of employers, workers, and governments to develop and apply credible methods and mechanisms to address four major challenges to decent work. These challenges are forced labour, human trafficking, modern slavery, and child labour.
Forced labour in the marine fisheries sub-sector, as in other sectors, may be considered far-fetched. Yet, an appreciation of practices such as physical abuse of fishers (workers), abuse of their vulnerability, deception, excessive overtime, poor working and living conditions and informal recruitment processes that create bottlenecks in the application of individual workers’ agreements, attest of the reality of forced labour in the industry. The need to prevent and eliminate forced labour in marine fisheries is further appreciated when the connection between labour rights and illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) is highlighted: when fishers are underpaid and forced to catch “much more fish” before they receive their fair share, they compromise standards and abet in the application of unacceptable practices in fishing.
Addressing the issues raised under SDG Target 8.7. calls for a tripartite approach, involving the relevant workers employers and government agencies. In the fishing industry, the Maritime, and Dock Workers Union (MDU) and the National Union of Seamen Ports and Allied Workers (NUSPAW) are working hard to organise fishers and other workers in the marine fisheries space and to empower them with requisite knowledge and skills to assert their rights as well us perform their responsibilities in the context of their engagement in fishing activities. The reality is that most fishers working on industrial fishing vessels are very experienced but also have significant gaps in knowledge and skill. This is a more serious issue because work in the marine space is identified as a hazardous occupation. The risk to injury is relatively higher so there is little room for ignorance and incompetence. Life-threatening injuries would be the consequence; and this is not very uncommon in practice. Many fishers lose limbs and life to give us the fish we enjoy. The ILO is empowering fishers by strengthening their capacity to organise and increase their knowledge and skills in advocating for the enforcement of national and international labour standards.
Similarly, the relevant employer’s association such as The Ghana Tuna Association (GTA) and the Ghana Industrial Trawlers Association (GITA) as well as the Ghana Inshore Fisheries Association (GIFA) are demonstrating commitment to improve standards in the industry so that production will not be at the expense of human rights and productivity would lead to decent work for all. This interest of employers is carefully nurtured by the fit-for-purpose capacity building programmes delivered through the ILO 8.7. Accelerator Lab Programme being implemented in several countries including Ghana, Indonesia, and South Africa.
In effect, the ILO strategy of building the capacity of relevant tripartite stakeholders provides nutritious soil environment to cultivate efficient partnerships to support national efforts in Ghana and other countries, towards the elimination of forced labour and other decent work deficits in the fishing sector, especially in the wake of formidable global and local challenges.