Saturday, February 13, 2016

We’re like slaves to our tauke, say Kuala Selangor fishing folk

Trapped in a never-ending cycle of debt and servitude, the fisher folk of Jeram, Kuala Selangor, tell how they are ensnared to the middlemen who own their boats and their catch. The government, they claimed, has turned a deaf ear to their applications for aid and equipment, forcing them to rely on these boat owners who take a substantial cut from their daily earnings. Coastal fisherman Rassali Rahman, 56, has been working for the same middleman or "tauke" since he started fishing 38 years ago. Rassali illustrated how if he caught RM200 worth of fish a day, he would only get RM33. Half of the RM200 would go towards fuel and the remaining RM100 would be split into three – for his tauke, an assistant and himself. "So you can imagine how hard it is. I've been going on like this for decades as a fisherman," said Rassali, who was met at the Jeram jetty in Kuala Selangor recently. Most of the 400 fishermen in the area worked for middlemen, most of whom owned more than one boat, said the father of eight. The middlemen become de facto employers of these fishermen and even hand out loans. Although the middlemen own the boats and equipment, the fishermen are the ones who have the licences and permits to fish. "My tauke has 15 boats. We fishermen have no choice. All our catch is sold to them. The middlemen also buy our catch at below market prices." For instance, a kilogramme of prawns is sold at RM22 from the fisherman to the middleman. "But at the market, the price is RM50 a kilogramme." Fishermen who own their own boats are able to charge more. Using the same example, Rassali said they could charge RM36 kg for the same prawns. Rassali said he has applied to the government repeatedly for more than 30 years for loans for nets and equipment. "I am done asking the government for help because I have been applying all my life. They always say 'we will look into it'. "But it's been 30 years, what else are they looking into? I haven't seen anything of my application." Another fisherman Zakaria Saad, 50, said he also asked for aid from the Fisheries Development Board (LKIM) but has yet to receive any reply. Zakaria said the price of boats was way out of their reach and many were forced to seek government loans. "We need aid to buy nets, engines and a boat. All of this is between RM20,000 to RM30,000 for a 23-foot long boat," Zakaria said. It would be impossible for them to afford these on their meagre earnings, Zakaria said. "I have no land and my house is on my mother's land, which is shared among my siblings. We live like slaves." They were not even allowed to eat their own catch, said Yahya Sampol, 51, as all their fish has to be sold to the middlemen. "Some fishermen sell their catch at sea to other buyers for a higher price. But this is dangerous as the tauke has spies everywhere," said Yahya. Faced with slim hopes of bettering himself, Rassali said he was depending on his children to do well in school and find better jobs than their father. Two of his eight children are completing their diplomas in local colleges. "As hard as it is for me, I do everything I can to put my children through school," said Rassali, adding that he had even borrowed money from his tauke to buy a laptop for his son in college. Although this would further indebt him to his middleman, Rassali said it was worth it if his son did well in school. "I do not want my children to grow up and be like me. They have to do better. When I can no longer fish, I hope that they can take care of me." LKIM chairperson Datuk Irmohizam Ibrahim said his agency did not provide aid for boats or equipment, adding that this was under the "Azam Tani programme" of the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry. "Each application will be looked at and processed based on our current allocation. Tekun Nasional also has loan schemes for fishermen boats and engines. "I hope that fishermen will come forward to the Kuala Selangor LKIM office to apply," Irmohizam told The Malaysian Insider in a WhatsApp message. – February 14, 2016.]]>

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