The European Social Partners has written to DG MARE Director, Veronika Veits regarding the current heavy restrictions on the free movement of fishermen that has become so problematic that many fishing vessels will be forced to stop fishing operations in a matter of days.
They have called on the Director-General to intervene with European and national authorities where it is the utmost urgency to facilitate crew changes and find solutions for closed borders.
In their letter they say “We therefore call upon the EU institutions to support the industry and its workforce with the challenges they are facing. Special measures and actions have to be taken with the greatest urgency to ensure that the fishing industry can continue supplying food in these difficult times to the fullest extent possible.”
The Social Partners recommend the following measures:
They say it is critical that the fishing industry should be defined as a vital sector of the economy being one of the first important links of the food chain. Therefore fishermen should be defined as vital professionals and afforded special consideration from EU and national authorities.
The Social Partners have called for free movement of fishing vessel crews as the current pandemic has caused heavy restriction on movement of people. They say that travel to and from fishing vessels and border crossings should be facilitated for those essential workers, and for this reason the sector should be flexible and assist fisherman to continue working on vessels and be allowed to leave and return home so that reliefs can continue to be effected.
The Social Partners also call for tailor-made and standardised guidance to help perform group reporting, screening at sea, health-monitoring, disembarkation of suspected and confirmed cases. They also asked that effective and quick testing should be put in place when a crew is replacing another whenever possible and allowed according to the measures taken by the port/flag state country. Fishermen shall be provided with necessary Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in accordance with national legislation adopted by the flag State based on Directives 92/29/EEC and (EU) 2017/159, fishermen shall have access to medical care on board and to emergency medical treatment, taking into consideration the limitations associated with work on board fishing vessels. Some measures, such as the social distancing, are hard to physically implement on board fishing vessels, therefore, health authorities of Member States in close cooperation with the European Commission should develop precise guidelines and provide assistance to implement the recommendations to protect the health of fishermen and minimise any risk.
The letter also has the Social Partners calling for a minimum period of service as they say due to restrictions they have to spend longer periods on board ships than specified in the employment agreement under applicable national law.
Another issue that fishermen could be facing is the updating of certificates in view of travel restrictions because many fishermen are having to spend longer periods onboard than usual and not being allowed to leave the vessel. Some training institutes have closed to contain the spread of the virus and therefore, it has resulted in fishermen not being able to do the necessary training required for an extension of the certificates, which could lead to certificates being suspended.
The letter finishes by saying “While the COVID-19 crisis will have an unprecedented impact at all levels, it is vital to ensure that the industry can continue operating by urgently adopting the above-mentioned actions. This will secure the safety of our fishermen and the food supply to our markets.”
The full letter can be read here.