Crew won't get Government help to get owed wages

21:06, Aug 02 2012

The Government has washed its hands of attempts by six Indonesian fishing crew to get wages they are owed, saying it is a matter for the shipping agent.

The six were allowed to stay in New Zealand to give evidence in a ministerial inquiry into the practices of foreign charter vessels sparked when they and 26 other crew members walked off the Oyang 75 and Shin Ji in Lyttelton last year claiming physical and sexual abuse.

They are among up to 97 foreign fishing crew owed pay despite promises from the Government foreign workers would receive the minimum wage, the ministerial inquiry and two independent audits into the industry.

They include the widows of six crew aboard the Oyang 70 which sank off the coast of Otago two years ago and the crew of the Oyang 77 and 95 - all Korean owned.

A letter from Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson to a representative for the crew of the Oyang 75, obtained by Fairfax Media, said: ''The payment of wages and other reimbursements, and the bank accounts into which they are paid, are a matter between the crew and the shipping agent.''

In May, the Government announced foreign-flagged fishing ships would be banned because of labour, safety and fisheries concerns.

The chartered vessels have four years to be reflagged as New Zealand ships and meet national standards and practices.

The changes affect 12 of 27 New Zealand fishing companies using foreign chartered ships which catch fish worth $650 million a year in a $1.5 billion export industry.

Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton said the Government had made ''a big song and dance'' about the ministerial inquiry and the changes to the industry.

''Yet here we have innocent victims of appalling treatment and slave labour rates who were brave enough to come forward, still not being paid.''

All of the 97 crew, including the six that remained to give evidence, had now been sent home, she said.

''They're sitting in Indonesia, unpaid and poor, with no resolution in sight.''

The Department of Labour had said it would help the crews of the Oyang 75 and Shin Ji receive the wages they were owed, Fenton said.

Wilkinson said under the current system, set up by the former Labour government in 2006, it was difficult to enforce wages and conditions for the foreign fishing crew.

''We are trying to deal with these issues as we transition to the new regime,'' she told Parliament yesterday.

''There are various vessels going through various stages of the auditing process which is an increased auditing process under the improvements we have made.

''We are doing what we can to make sure that minimum wages are maintained and that conditions are actually enhanced.''

She was unable to say how much money the crew were owed or how much the Government spent on the audits being conducted by PriceWaterhouse Coopers and KPMG.