From 2019 to 2021, Pukaldi Saswanto spent 30 months working 14-hour days on a longline fishing vessel in the Pacific Ocean. When he was finally able to return home to Indonesia, he discovered he had not been paid for the grueling work.
Together with the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union – Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia (SBMI) – and two other fishers, he brought a lawsuit against the President of Indonesia for failing to ratify a regulation on worker rights and safety. Last month, they celebrated a landmark victory as the regulation was finally ratified.
Deep-sea forced labor: Pukaldi’s story
When signing up at a local recruitment agency, Pukaldi hoped for the chance to earn enough money to get married while working as a fisher abroad.
When he arrived in Fiji, he was told he would be working on a deep-sea fishing boat. Deep-sea fishing usually keeps workers away from land for years at a time, as secondary boats collect the fish from the main vessel and transport it back to land.
During his stint of two and a half years at sea, he faced challenging conditions. Food was limited and often consisted only of rotten vegetables. His living space was cramped, and he was unable to contact his family and friends for the entire time. He also saw his superiors use violence to punish some of the other workers.
His contract was for two years, but the boat did not return to shore once his contract expired. Instead, the fishers were forced to work six more months until they finally went on strike.
When he eventually got home to Indonesia, he was horrified to find out that his employer had not paid a single rupiah of the several thousand dollars he had supposedly earned from his work on the boat. To this day, he has not received any of his salary.
Campaigning for the protection of Indonesian migrant fishers
Seeking justice, Pukaldi got together with two other fishers, Jati Puji Santoso and Rizki Wahyudi, and SMBI. Their lawsuit alleged that the President was putting workers at risk due to the failure to ratify a government regulation that would make a 2017 law on worker rights and safety enforceable within two years.
On June 8, the Indonesian government finally signed on to the regulation, improving protections for Indonesian migrant workers on foreign fishing boats. Pukaldi and the other fishers have since called off their lawsuit.
It is a significant milestone in the fight for the abolition of slavery and human rights abuse within the fishing industry, especially in Indonesia as one of the biggest sources of workers for distant water fishing vessels.
Pukaldi is hopeful that this regulation will help protect other Indonesians who go abroad to work in the fishing sector. He added:
We hope that the government will immediately take actions as well as to punish those who are responsible for my unpaid wages to finish their job. We will continue this fight.