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EU partners adopt social clause for fishing agreements

15 June 2014

The European Transport Workers’ organisation, ETF, and representatives from the fishing industry boat owners’ associations, Europêche and Cogeca, have agreed on a revised social clause that may be inserted somehow in SFPAs with third countries, replacing the existing social clause that was proposed by the social partners in 2001.

ETF has released the text of the new clause. This refers to social protection and labour standards to ensure decent working conditions for third-country crew members working on board vessels operating under EU–ACP SFPAs.

“By revising the text of the clause, social partners want to make it more precise and workable and to link it to the available international instruments, notably the ILO work in fishing Convention 188, on which ETF, Europêche and Cogeca have recently concluded an agreement that should become EU law,” said the chair of the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Sea Fisheries (SSDCSF). “We are asking the European Commission to first make a legal assessment of the text that we have negotiated and then to include the new clause where possible on basis of the Union’s competences in the SFAs to be signed in the future,” added the vice-chair of the SSDCSF, clarifying that it will be up to the member states, as flag states, to guarantee that provisions in the clause are applied on board vessels operating under SFPAs.

The proposed clause also requests that the periodical SFPA evaluations should include an assessment of the application of the clause, in close collaboration with the SSDC–SF. In their routine inspections, the EU flag state’s competent authorities should also control  the application of the revised social clause.

Editorial comment

EU distant water fishing stakeholders are facing competition from other distant water fleets which they claim are not respecting EU labour standards, among others. They are therefore developing a strategy to establish a more “level playing field” at the international level.

The introduction of a new social clause should be seen in this light. This clause, which still has to be agreed by EU institutions before being included in future SFPAs, will promote decent working conditions on board EU vessels, in accordance with ILO Convention 188 – still being ratified by EU member states. It is hoped that, in the long term, it will enter into force at the international level, providing the basis for improved working conditions on board all vessels, including all distant water fleets active in ACP waters, and contribute to the level playing field demanded by the EU fishing sector. The new SFPA social clause will also provide an interesting “blue print” for what should become the international norm; and ACP countries can use this opportunity to develop their capacity to implement the future ILO Convention, also by developing portside labour inspection capacities.


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