Slavery at sea claims spark NZ fishing audit call

NET PROFITS: New Zealand officials have long been aware of conditions on foreign-crewed fishing vessels but there have been no prosecutions
NET PROFITS: New Zealand officials have long been aware of conditions on foreign-crewed fishing vessels but there have been no prosecutions

The Maritime Union is calling for a full audit of the industry after reports have revealed overseas fishing crews are being exploited in New Zealand waters.

It has been revealed workers are plucked from low-wage countries like Indonesia and Vietnam by ''agents'' who take half their wages. The men earn between $260 and $460 a month before paying the agents.

Conditions on the boats are unsafe and often violent.

The Maritime Unions says in recent years the joint venture fishing industry have seen a string of sinkings, drownings, industrial accidents, reports of violence and abuse, health and safety violations, ship jumpings, appalling work conditions and failures to honour employment and wage agreements.

Files obtained under the Official Information Act show the government has know about the problem for some time but had only responded by setting basic standards for onboard observers.

Maritime Union general secretary Joe Fleetwood says the union has been advocating for a complete clean up of the joint venture fishing industry for years to protect workers.

He says there needs to be a full audit of the industry, including the standard of vessels and opening the wages books.

"This situation is what is known overseas as social dumping, or the exploitation of cross-border labour in a globalized economy."

Fleetwood says just because fishing vessels were operating off the New Zealand coast that did not give operators a right to ignore New Zealand standards of employment.

"The New Zealand Government has taken an ineffective approach, simply because there are big profits in it for the companies."

He says the overseas fishing crews are not members of the Maritime Union but the union would continue to offer help if asked as the overseas crews had no other effective representation.

Fleetwood says the Maritime Union and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has assisted crew members on many occasions, organising repatriation of crew members and the payment of outstanding wages.

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Sunday Star Times