'We need more cheap foreign fishermen'

New Zealand's fishing industry needs more cheap Asian labour not less, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels.

FCVs, flagged in mainly Asian states, operate New Zealand's deep sea fishery with around 2000 low wage crews from Third World countries.

SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.

Despite high unemployment it was hard to get New Zealanders to work on fishing boats.

New Zealanders did not like being at sea for weeks at a time, working in uncomfortable conditions and living in an isolated and enforced alcohol and drug free environment.

"It is not seen as an attractive work place for many people."

SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

"Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand."

It named Fisher & Paykel, Fonterra and Icebreaker.

Air New Zealand uses Chinese crew on its China service who are paid less than New Zealanders doing the same jobs.

Without referring to the Rena grounding it said most ships operating on the New Zealand coast are crewed by people from the same low wage countries used by FCVs.

It said New Zealand was seen in other countries as a source of cheap skilled labour and pointed to Qantas hiring New Zealand crews at rates lower than Australians would get. The New Zealand film industry was based on cheap labour, SeaFIC said. 

There were not enough New Zealanders to fill vacancies created if FCVs were ordered out.

The inquiry opened public submissions in Wellington today. It will hold hearings in Auckland, Nelson and Christchurch.

It was set up following a University of Auckland study into FCVs and media reports citing cases of labour abuse and exploitation.

Last year an aged FCV, Oyang 70, sank off the Otago coast, killing six.

The government in setting up the inquiry said they were concerned at the damage to reputation New Zealand was suffering over FCVs and allegations it  was a form of human trafficking.

SeaFIC say there is no evidence that FCV companies are failing to pay their crews according a code of practice which requires crews to receive the New Zealand minimum wage.

New Zealand's reputation is not a function of compliance by the companies, but the result of public opinion.

"The intensity of comment in the media, whether based on fact or allegation, may present risk to international reputation."

FCV crews do not pay tax or Accident Compensation levies.

"A tax paying, single New Zealand resident not entitled to any additional tax or welfare assistance would need to earn $37,650 gross ($32,760 net) to be better paid than a crewman on a FCV."

Through FCVs, the fishing industry was transferring over $65 million annually to citizens of developing countries.

By comparison, it said, the New Zealand Government gave just $31 million to Oxfam and Volunteer Service Aboard to work in such countries.

SeaFIC admitted that their submission was not supported by all its members and amounted only to a majority view of fishing quota owners who use FCVs.

Stuff