There are an estimated 1.22 million people living in conditions of modern slavery in Indonesia (GSI 2018). Traffickers exploit both domestic and foreign victims in Indonesia. Government regulations allow employers in certain sections, including small and medium enterprises and labour-intensive industries, an exemption from minimum wage requirement, thus increasing risks of exploitation. Traffickers exploit many Indonesians through force and debt-coercion. Men, women and children are exploited in fishing, construction, on plantations, in mining and in manufacturing industries. Vessel crew on board Chinese, Korean, Vanuatuan, Taiwan, Thai, Malaysian and Philippines-flagged and/or owned fishing vessels operating in Indonesian waters subject fisherman to forced labour. Recruitment agencies lure people with promises of high wages, charge fees, assign them fake identities and labor permit documents and send them to fish long hours in waters on vessels operating under complex multinational flagging and ownership arrangements. Crews on board fishing vessels have reported low or unpaid salaries and coercive tactics such as contract discrepancies, document retention, restricted communication, poor living and working conditions, threats of violence and physical and sexual abused.
Rahat was looking for work when he was encouraged by a friend to travel to Bangkok for work. He was told he would be able to make more money at sea than on land, however instead he was trafficked on to a fishing trawler in Indonesia. Conditions on the boat were awful, there was not enough food to last the crew and they were subjected to beating if they were ‘lazy.’
My name is Rahat. I’m 54 years old. I became part of a fishing crew because I was lured into it. But originally a friend had invited me to come to Bangkok to work. Once I arrived at the bus station another guy came up to me and invited me to come work with him instead -- as a fishing crew member. He told me the wages at sea would be higher than any kind of work on the land…
Once I arrived at the workers’ lodging there, I found out that we were being held there and were not allowed to go outside...
The next day someone came to take my photo. I have no idea why. Three or four days later, four or five of us were put onto a small boat and headed to the mouth of the river towards the sea.
The vessel I was put on was a big boat, like a cargo carrier. The journey took 10 to 12 days. And we were heading to Indonesia. At first I had no idea where we were going. They didn’t tell me we were going to work in Indonesia. When we got there, we were moved onto a smaller boat – it was a fishing trawler.
When we got on board the other crew members asked us “how did you get here and who brought you?” I said they had told me I was going to earn a higher salary than on land – that on land I was going to make 8.000 to 9.000 bath but at sea I would make 10.000 bath. It was then the other crew told me I had been conned.
For every three hours of work, we got one hour or half an hour of rest, depending on how much fish we caught -- so we got about 5 to 6 hours of rest a day.
The conditions on the boat were really awful. I’d never experienced conditions like this in my life. We only had enough fresh vegetables for five or six days, but we were out on the water trawling for about two months before coming back to shore. Gradually everything ran out. We just ate boiled fish with fish sauce because nothing new was ordered in.
The Daigong – the overseer or master of the vessel-- would hit us if we were lazy. When you’re hurt or sick, they ignored that we couldn’t work and would force us to work. If you weren’t able to work, they would get the daigong to beat you up and this was very common.
Narrative provided by TARGET: Zero Hunger ‘Trapped at Sea: The first against slavery in the fishing industry.