Court battle looms over wages

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 23/03/2014

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Around 300 Indonesian crew from South Korean fishing boats that operated in New Zealand waters are heading to the employment authority claiming $17 million in unpaid wages.

Two hundred are from foreign charter vessels (FCVs) hired by Auckland's Sanford Ltd, controlled by the family of National Party president Peter Goodfellow.

It comes as officials from South Korea's largest fishing company, Sajo Oyang, face criminal charges of fraud and forgery related to operations in New Zealand.

It's the latest step in the battle to end labour and human rights abuses aboard the FCVs working New Zealand's exclusive economic zone.

Paperwork filed with Employment Relations Authority (ERA) claimed Dong Won Fishing Co short-changed crews on the Sanford-chartered Dong Won 519, 530 and 701 and Juham Industries vessel Pacinui.

The 200 crew allege they were paid as little as $600 per month, worked in poor conditions, sometimes in excess of 20-hour stretches, and were subject to verbal and physical abuse on the vessels. They are claiming $10m.

Another 100 men from Sureste 700, 709 and 701, chartered by Timaru's South East Resources (201) Ltd, want $7m.

Crews have filed affidavits claiming short payments and mistreatment including being denied medical treatment. "I . . . have experienced violence," reads on crew member's affidavit. "One time it was my turn to roll the things with a small wire and it was a bit loose and it was not tight enough, I straight away get scolded and cursed and kicked around my thigh section really hard until I fell to the ground."

One crewman describes how beautiful he found New Zealand and the contrast with the ships he worked.

"All crew and I didn't give a time to sleep until two days, although we were very tired and sleepy but the bosun keep asking to work until all fish have been packed," he said. "When I was working [to] cut the fish my finger sliced by fish cutting machine because of tired factor and sleepy. I almost lost my finger."

Some claim they have been made to sign blank pieces of paper acknowledging receipt of money.

"I also been asked to signed payment sheet about NZ$20,000-$40,000 but I actually didn't receive those money."

In its last annual report in December Sanford said FCVs had a very good year with strong catches.

A bill requiring FCVs to reflag by 2016 is languishing at item 27 on the Parliamentary Order Paper and is unlikely to pass before the elections in September.

International allegations around Sajo Oyang, Korea's biggest fisher, have resulted in the US State Department placing Seoul on a human trafficking annual watchlist report. Human rights sources say this is why company officials will appear in a Korean court on Wednesday facing charges over its actions in New Zealand.

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The charges revolve around the use of Oyang 75 which was brought into New Zealand to replace the Oyang 70, which sank in 2010 off Otago with the loss of six men. After being convicted of environmental offences, Oyang 75's officers were fined more than $420,000. The ship is subject to a forfeiture order yet to be argued before court.

The Korean Coast Guard has laid charges of fraud against the company chief executive, Gapsuk Lee, and other company officials, alleging they drew up fake foreign currency transfer receipts to show the Indonesian crew had been paid, when they had not.

- Sunday Star Times

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