Aquaculture & FisheriesBusiness

Fishermen’s Union ‘Pleased’ to See End of Rights Auctions

FF chairman Jan Højgaard. Image credits: Maria Olsen.

Unlike for other workers and officers in the Faroe Islands, there is no government-mandated health insurance for fishermen, according to Jan Højgaard, chairman of the Faroe Fishermen’s Union (FF—Føroya Fiskimannafelag), who argues that the “untenable situation” should be addressed by the Faroese government.

Mr. Højgaard nonetheless expressed approval of the current government’s revisions to the fisheries reform introduced by the previous administration.

“We’re fairly satisfied with much of the new fisheries legislation,” he said. “First off, we’re pleased that the auctioning of fishing rights has been scrapped. This was a major issue for our members, and it had become obvious to many of us that the rights auctions did not serve the industry well, nor the community, and many of our members’ wages were beginning to shrink as a result of those auctions. We need a decent degree of stability—not the kind of extreme uncertainty and volatility that comes with auctioning off fishing rights in a tiny society that is so dependent of revenues from the fish industry. We were told the rights auctions would eliminate or reduce unwanted financial speculation; but it did the opposite, so we’re glad to see the back of it.”

Another key victory for the FF is seen in the reversal of the ‘rights holder’ concept introduced in the previous government’s fisheries reform, which effectively blocked the unions from validating contract compliance on wages from fishing trips commissioned by rights holders with no vessels of their own.

“Under the collective labor contracts, the unions have, for many decades, retained access to sales data for each fishing trip as relevant to the calculation of members’ wages,” Mr. Højgaard said.

“But then the authorities, against our explicit advice, started to allocate fishing rights, so-called development quotas, to entities that were neither vessel owners nor operators. So all of a sudden we had this new class of actors that were not bound by the labor market contracts. These new rights holders would simply hire existing fishing vessels including their crews to fish their development quotas. But as non-fishing entities are not party to the labor market contracts covering the fishing industry, the unions had no way of getting access to relevant data to verify whether or not the salaries they were paying were contract compliant. We warned strongly, several times, against this issue but they still went ahead with it. And it opened the door wide to destabilizing speculation and potential corruption—it threatened to undermine decades of hard earned rights. If that arrangement had continued, I’m afraid it could have caused more and more damage to the very foundation of all our progress so painstakingly negotiated over all these years. Luckily the new government rolled back that arrangement to make sure fishing rights are invariably attached to actual vessels whose owners are parties to the labor market contracts in the Faroe Islands.”

Read more: Faroe Business Report

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