5 Dec 2015

Foreign crews may still face mistreatment - researcher

3:02 pm on 5 December 2015

New laws requiring all foreign-owned fishing boats to be reflagged in New Zealand will not stop their crews from being mistreated, a researcher says.

A Sealord fishing boat at sea.

Sealord said the three Russian-owned companies it worked with were expected to be flagged to New Zealand and come under local labour laws by May. Photo: RNZ / Alison Hossain

Auckland University research fellow Glenn Simmons said workers on foreign-owned boats were being threatened with financial penalties if they spoke out about their abuse.

Dr Simmons has been investigating human rights abuses and the use of forced labour on foreign-chartered fishing vessels in New Zealand since 2010.

His research triggered a ministerial inquiry and ultimately led to new legislation requiring all foreign charter vessels to be reflagged to New Zealand and to comply with local labour laws by 2016.

But he said, while wages and working conditions on foreign vessels had improved since his 2012 expose, Indonesian crew members working on New Zealand boats were also being exploited.

"It's not only a problem on these foreign charter vessels, it's also a problem where some of them have worked on New Zealand-flagged vessels.

"That's why, despite the reflagging coming in next year, it's still going to require close oversight by the relevant agencies," he said.

Professor Simmons said eight foreign fishing ships had already left New Zealand ahead of the law changes that will come into effect in May.

He said New Zealand fishing companies contracting these vessels to fish their quota would probably claim they had no knowledge of what was really going on.

"They should know what's going on these vessels, they certainly ought to know, and some of the information I have had is that they do know," he said.

From May next year, all foreign-owned fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters will have to be flagged to New Zealand and come under local labour laws.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, three foreign charter vessels have reflagged to date and two are currently going through the process.

A Sealord spokesperson said it worked with three Russian-owned companies, two of which are already New Zealand-registered. The other one expected to be reflagged early next year.

A spokesperson for Sanford said it expected both its Korean partner vessels would be reflagged by the May deadline.

According to Immigration New Zealand data, 258 work visas were approved for Indonesian nationals to work on fishing vessels in New Zealand waters in the year to June 2015.

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