Fishing pay fight damaging NZ

02:00, Apr 15 2014

Ngapuhi, New Zealand's biggest tribe, has lost a bid to have the right to continue using cheap Third World labour on foreign boats fishing its deepwater quotas, political sources say.

The iwi had won an amendment which would have given it permission to continue using foreign charter fishing vessels (FCVs) after 2016. All other fishing companies will be forced to fly New Zealand flags from that year.

The Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill has languished way down on the parliamentary order paper for nearly a year, but it is suddenly up for a second reading at 8.30pm today.

This follows publicity last week around continued abuse of Indonesian crews on FCVs.

They made the claim after Fairfax Media last week reported that about 480 Indonesian men working on South Korean fishing boats chartered to New Zealand companies had been underpaid by about $25 million.

After the bill went through select committee last year, it re-emerged with an unexpected amendment in which Ngapuhi was to be given an exemption on foreign crews.

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Te Runanga A Iwi O Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau at the time said New Zealand would lose $300m if the low-wage crews were made to leave.

"We are not completely happy with the outcome; we think they have taken a sledgehammer to a walnut," Tau said.
"It gives us time to catch up with the rest of the fleet."

Tau said Korean companies have "tax issues" in Korea and if New Zealand made it too hard they would not come here.

At the time Peter Talley, chief executive of Nelson-based Talley's Group, said if the bill passed into law with the Ngapuhi exception, New Zealand would face international boycotts.

"It is a national scandal that Maori, given settlement quota for the purpose of bringing young Maori into the business of fishing, are now given a preferential right to use Third World foreign labour to harvest those very resources," Talley said.

The second reading of the bill that is expected in Parliament this week drops the Ngapuhi clause, political sources say.

Its only change will be allowing foreign crew to be used on vessels for research on specific tuna species and fisheries management. 

International group Slave Free Seas said earlier that New Zealand's international reputation would suffer after reports that workers on some chartered fishing boats were being pushed to drop court action over wages.

Its director, Craig Tuck, said various forms of abuse had been bought to the attention of authorities here, but no action had followed.

He said it remained standard practice for manning agents to retain 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the crew's US$250 ($288) per month salary.

He pointed to the case of the vessel Melilla 201 where the crew walked off in New Zealand over abuse and underpayment, and returned home.

The agents had kept the money in an attempt to coerce crew to drop their claims before the New Zealand Employment Relations Authority, he said.

Agents had even visited the men's wives to threaten them.

Slave Free Seas said an interpreter it had used had been attacked in broad daylight and required hospital treatment.

The organisation said it provided wording to Immigration New Zealand that was to have been used in instructions to ensure the ethical recruiting of foreign crews. They came into effect in 2012 but did not appear to have been actioned or enforced.

"It is high time that these instructions are abided by or New Zealand's reputation will suffer even more," Tuck said.
New Zealand authorities had not cancelled licences to charterers to bring in foreign crews despite hundreds of crew claiming tens of millions of underpaid wages while working in abusive conditions.

"As for manning agents, they are left to do as they will, unchecked and with no apparent consequence to the New Zealand charter party or the vessel owner," Tuck said.

"This is the use and abuse of vulnerable people in conditions akin to forced labour."

Fairfax Media