Department of Labor officials meet with fishermen, hear concerns - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Department of Labor officials meet with fishermen, hear concerns

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Elizabeth Vowell – email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – Some Asian-American fishermen want the opportunity to work for BP and help clean up the oil spill, but many say they aren't getting their chance. Representatives from the Department of Labor met with the fishermen Thursday to find out why. 

"We wanted to meet specifically with vessel owners and deck hands about how they're doing, about how they're fairing in this situation," said Jane Oats, one of four assistant secretaries from Department of Labor present. 

According to Oats, fishermen concerns in Mississippi are very similar to those they've heard in Louisiana and other gulf states. Many of the complaints have to do with applying for clean up work with BP. 

On top of the usual BP application challenges, these fishermen said they also have to overcome a language barrier which they worry will keep them from getting hired. 

"Their concern is that they submit an application to BP, and BP is the only one that can call and activate them to go to work," explained Boat People SOS branch manager Danny Lee. "If they were to miss a phone call or if they were to pick up a call and not be able to understand what it was all about, then they lose the opportunity to go to work."

Labor officials say they plan to help improve the translation, as well as, the transparency of the work and claims application processes.

"We're going to figure out two things. One, how we figure out transparency a little bit better, and how we do translation a little bit better, and we're working on that already," said Oats who is the Assistant Secretary for Employment Training.

Oats also said they were "thrilled" the Vessels of Opportunity program was adjusting its policies to use more commercial fishermen. 

Oats also expressed that the labor department hopes to provide training for other jobs, should fishermen not be hired by BP.

Some of that training may include English as a second language for those who are not proficient in the language.

"Almost 90% of the fishermen who live here, the Asian-American, Vietnamese-American do not speak English very well. The concern is if they have a hard time communicating, verbalizing their needs to BP officials and BP does very little to provide language access to these folks," Lee said. 

According to Oats, the Labor Department will be involved in the process until every fisherman has a job. 

"We are well aware that listening is a passive activity and we're going to get into action. I hope in the next week or so they see significant changes because of our visit and because of our strong partnership with Mississippi," said Oats.    

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