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Maritime Union welcomes US Government report

Press Release – Maritime Union of New Zealand

The Maritime Union says heavy criticism of the use of overseas labour in the New Zealand fishing industry in a major US Government report is justified, and confirms how bad practices have become in the New Zealand maritime sector.Maritime Union welcomes US Government report “spotlight” on New Zealand fishing industry practices

Maritime Union of New Zealand media release FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Wednesday 20 June 2012

The Maritime Union says heavy criticism of the use of overseas labour in the New Zealand fishing industry in a major US Government report is justified, and confirms how bad practices have become in the New Zealand maritime sector.

The Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 was released today by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

The State Department report identifies areas of strong concern for human trafficking in New Zealand including the use of overseas labour in the fishing industry.

Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Joe Fleetwood congratulated the hard hitting nature of the report, which was a “major embarrassment” for the New Zealand Government and fishing industry.

“This report confirms and vindicates the stance of the Maritime Union that the deregulated industry and exploitation of overseas labour has been a stain on New Zealand’s reputation.”

“The Maritime Union has been pushing for action on this issue for a decade.”

Mr Fleetwood says the damage to New Zealand’s global reputation was hard to quantify.

“The blame must be put at the foot of the cowboy operators in the industry, and successive Government’s who soft pedalled the issue and only took belated action when forced to. The lesson being they can’t afford to sweep these dirty little secrets under the carpet anymore.”

New Zealand was now in position of damage control, he says.

The Government had now basically admitted the foreign crews issue in fishing was a “disaster zone” and the recently announced plan to phase out foreign charter vessels in the industry reflected this.

The Maritime Union of New Zealand, as an affiliate of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), has acted on a regular basis to assist foreign crew members in distress by representing their interests.

“This is simply something we do because in many cases these workers were being exploited and abused, and had nowhere else to go. In many cases the Maritime Union and ITF have gained substantial back pay owed and organized safe repatriation for crews to their country of origin.”

The Maritime Union was approached by State Department officials visiting New Zealand in 2011, including State Department Ambassador at Large Luis CdeBaca.

Mr Fleetwood says the Maritime Union was impressed by the thoroughness of the visiting delegation who were provided with a full briefing and documentation of the Union’s experiences.

The introduction to the State Department report prominently features an advertisement that appeared in the Otago Daily Times on 5 June 2007 offering a $1000 bounty for information on a ship jumping Indonesian fishing crew member.

The advertisement is compared in the State Department Report to advertisements that appeared in the United States in the nineteenth century for escaped slaves.

ENDS

Editorial note – please see below a media release from 13 June 2007 from MUNZ on the publication of the “bounty hunter” ad that featured in the State Department report. The vessel he jumped ship from, the Oyang 70, sank in 2010 in calm waters 740km off the Otago coast with the loss of six lives.

Cash bounty for missing crew members could attract criminals (13 June 2007)

The Maritime Union says cash bounties being offered for missing overseas fishing crew members is extremely dangerous and is of dubious legality.

Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says he is concerned about a new trend that has private operators fronting up big money to track down missing crew members.

An advertisement placed in the Otago Daily Times today offers an $1000 bounty for information about missing crew member Kismo Pakistan who left his vessel the FV Oyang 70 in Dunedin on 5 June 2007.

The contact listed in the advertisement was Fisheries Consultancy Limited of Lyttelton and the advertisement was authorized by Southern Storm Fishing (2007) Limited of Christchurch.

Mr Hanson says having a cash bounty would encourage criminal and unsavoury elements to get involved, endangering both the missing fisherman and anyone who happens to look like him.

“The potential for standover tactics, exploitation and abuse is substantial.”

He says that if individuals have left ships and are in breach of their work visa, then it was the job of Government authorities to locate the missing individuals.

“It is not the job of fishing companies to act as the Sheriff, Judge, Jury and Executioner – we are not in the Wild West.”

He says shipjumping crew are not bad people.

“There are many reasons that foreign fishermen jump ship, in some cases it is because they want a better life, they may be breaking the law but they must be treated as human beings and we should remember that many people who came to New Zealand were doing exactly the same thing.”

He says the sad thing is the amount of money that is being offered for a reward would seem like a fortune for young, impoverished fishing crews from the Third World.

Mr Hanson says that there is a widely acknowledged international problem with fishing crews being mistreated and underpaid.

“We don’t want any of these practices to become established in New Zealand waters, and we know that in the past there have been a number of incidents that have led to Government action.”

“We thought that moves by the Government to tighten up on bad practices in the industry last year would have pulled a few horns in, but it seems that certain players want to continue to push the boundaries.”

Mr Hanson says the Maritime Union says that fishing companies in New Zealand waters should be made to employ New Zealanders on decent wages.

He says that if any overseas crews are used they should be on the same terms and conditions as New Zealand workers.

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