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Ban on foreign fishing vessels not enough - Labour

Published: 2:27PM Tuesday May 22, 2012 Source: ONE News

The Maritime Union and the Labour Party say Government plans to crack down on foreign fishing vessels do not go far enough.

Foreign-flagged fishing vessels are to be banned from operating in New Zealand waters to address labour, safety and fisheries practice concerns, the Government announced today.

Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the Government will require reflagging of all foreign-owned fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters, and the rule change will be brought in over a four-year transition period.

"The Government's decision sends a clear message that New Zealand is serious about the fair treatment of fishing crews, the safety of vessels and its international reputation for ethical and sustainable fishing practices," the ministers said.

However, the Maritime Union and the Labour Party say the best way to create good working conditions, is to make sure jobs on board the vessels go to Kiwis, and not foreigners.

Labour's immigration spokesperson Darien Fenton said: "While these changes mean foreign vessels will need to be registered as New Zealand vessels - and abide by our much higher fisheries and labour standards -  they will still be able to use entirely foreign crew, which would continue to see New Zealand workers shut out."

She said Labour would encourage maximum participation by New Zealanders in fisheries and seafood processing and would move towards a minimum of 50% New Zealand crew on any vessel fishing within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.

Wilkinson said once vessels are flagged to New Zealand, the full range of New Zealand law, including employment relations and workplace health and safety law, will automatically apply and be enforceable.

Carter said: "Reflagging will further strengthen compliance with New Zealand laws and provide more transparency around the operation of foreign-owned vessels." 

Govt acts on Inquiry

The Government launched an inquiry following allegations of slave labour and abuse on board foreign fishing boats and the sinking of another that killed six.

The Government decided in March to act on a number of recommendations of the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels (FCVs).  

"We are already moving to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of FCVs, including placing an observer on all FCVs fishing in New Zealand waters."

Wilkinson said there will be increased monitoring of the industry during the transition period to ensure foreign crews are protected.

"Reflagging will provide greater protection to the crew as they will be employed by a New Zealand-based party under a New Zealand employment agreement.   

"If breaches of labour law occur - such as underpayment of wages or illegal deductions or breaches of the Code of Practice, the Department of Labour will be able to investigate them and take action."

It is estimated foreign chartered vessels contribute around $300 million in export earnings for New Zealand.

And Carter said the Government continues to welcome foreign charter fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters, but they must meet our requirements and our standards.

The law will be changed by the end of the year to implement the policy.