Immigration NZ has issued more than 700 visas in the past year for foreign workers on chartered fishing vessels despite concern they will be abused and almost 100 crew remaining unpaid after a ministerial inquiry into the industry.
Figures supplied to Labour by Immigration Minister Nathan Guy show 742 visas were issued to foreign crew in the 2011/2012 financial year, down from 2084 the previous year and 281 in 2009/10.
Fairfax Media revealed earlier this month that 97 foreign fishing crew were owed pay despite promises from the Government they would receive the New Zealand minimum wage.
It includes six Indonesians who were allowed to stay in New Zealand to give evidence to a ministerial inquiry last year sparked when they and 26 other crew members walked off the Oyang 75 and Shin Ji in Lyttelton claiming physical and sexual abuse.
In May, the Government announced foreign-flagged fishing ships would be banned because of labour, safety and overfishing concerns.
The chartered vessels have four years to be reflagged as New Zealand ships and meet national standards and practices.
Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton said there were not robust systems in place to protect the workers from abuse.
The Government was not putting any extra resources into enforcing the recommendations of the inquiry, she said.
"We are supposed to believe things are going to get better but no more money is going to be spent. In a year's time are we going to have another 100 crew that haven't been paid? I'm not satisfied the answer to that is no."
Guy said many fishing companies have said they would move quickly towards reflagging vessels.
Forensic audits were being conducted by Pricewaterhouse Coopers and a tighter code of practise had been developed.
"We want to lift the integrity of the system and New Zealand's reputation is paramount for foreign fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters."
The Government was "working through" the unpaid crew, he said.
"That is why we want these forensic audits to be done, to make sure we have a New Zealand bank account and money is paid into there."
The fishing crew are part of 1744 foreign workers Immigration NZ has approved to work in New Zealand in the past financial year, despite high unemployment.
The figures show 498 companies are bringing in foreign workers to take jobs in such sectors as manufacturing, agriculture and health. Almost half of those companies - 230 - are in the hospitality sector.
There has been a steady rise from 446 in the 2010/11 year and 395 in the 2009/10 year.
Fenton said it showed the Government was not ensuring opportunities were being created for New Zealanders.
Guy said the Government was focused on putting New Zealanders first. Employers who wanted to bring in migrant workers had to prove New Zealanders were not available.
"I'm satisfied the process is working the way it should be."
Approvals had fallen by half from the 1275 granted under the former Labour government in the 2007/08 financial year, he said.
However, unemployment was at a record 3.5 per cent low in December 2007. It is now at 6.8 per cent.
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