Unions throw support behind fishing boat workers

Last updated 10:10 31/03/2014

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Regional maritime unions have condemned what they say is the Government's failure to act against appalling labour conditions on foreign charter fishing boats.

They have committed their support to secure $30 million in unpaid wages for fishermen.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) says it is supporting New Zealand group Slave Free Seas, which is campaigning to win $30m in wages to mainly Indonesian and Vietnamese crews of foreign boats working New Zealand's exclusive economic zone.

ITF president Paddy Crumlin says the federation supports Slave Free Seas as "we try to break apart the industrial model upon which commercial fishing is built because it is akin to modern day slavery".

The union action coincides with action by lawyers acting for about 300 Indonesian crew from South Korean fishing boats who are heading to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) claiming $17m in unpaid wages.

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

Paperwork filed with the 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 for stretches longer than 20 hours, 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.

The ITF are part of the Regional Maritime Federation which met in Auckland last week.

Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Joe Fleetwood said Parliament needed to pass its fishing slavery laws as a matter of urgency.

A bill requiring foreign charter vessels to reflag to fly New Zealand flags - and be subject to New Zealand law - has languished in Parliament.

"The bill has now been pushed to No 27 on the parliamentary bills list, placing it in real danger of not being addressed before the upcoming national election," Fleetwood said.

"This is outrageous. The New Zealand Government is missing in action when it comes to protecting the rights and welfare of fishers in our region."

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- Fairfax Media

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