Next week, a report will reveal the abuse of 2,500 foreign workers used as virtual slaves on ships employed by kiwi fishing quota holders in our waters. New Zealand has a rich nautical history, world-leading boat-builders, and large fisheries. By rights, we should have a renowned fishing fleet in demand internationally. Instead, we let our potential go to waste and employ foreign slave-owners and human traffickers to do the work instead.
Supposedly, Foreign Charter Vessels are meant to employ their crew on at least the New Zealand minimum wage and to New Zealand workplace regulations. It’s clear, however, that this isn’t happening. Workers are paid a couple of hundred dollars a month and subjected to physical and sexual abuse while living and working in appalling conditions.
We not only let these ships harvest our fish on behalf of the iwi elite (80% of the foreign work is done for iwi quota-holders), we let them moor in our ports and keep their ’employees’ in virtual imprisonment even when docked. To our shame, the US Ambassador on human trafficking has been investigating these ships in New Zealand.
And what happens to the fish? Well, a hell of a lot of it gets wasted. The charter ships come from Korea and elsewhere, sail all the way here and then take their catch to China for processing (so much for valued-added exports, eh?). The economics of this encourage the ships to only keep the highest value fish they catch, dead by-catch and smaller fish are simply dumped leaving more room in the ships’ freezers for higher value fish but multiplying the impact of trawling on the eco-system. This, like paying foreign workers less than New Zealand wages, is illegal but it goes largely unreported. The charter vessels sometimes have New Zealand official observers on board but it’s clear that they are often intimidated into silence and that both Maritime New Zealand and the quota holders are complicit in covering up these crimes.
The industry says they have to employ foreign charter vessels because it’s not worth buying expensive boats that sit idle out of fishing seasons. That’s bollocks. If New Zealand quota-holders bought their own modern vessels (and there’s no reason they couldn’t be built here too), they could do what the Koreans do: fish in other regions during off seasons here. The real reason the industry uses foreign charters is it doesn’t want to invest in capital (an long-running weakness of our crappy management class) and the foreign vessels can do the work cheaper because of the abysmal pay.
It all comes down to money. To doing it cheap and nasty.
It’s staggering that iwi are the main drivers of this, and that Pita Sharples is defending them. Iwi won back their taonga to build and preserve them for future generations, not to make a quick buck now.
This has got to stop. We cannot have Kiwi corporates making a profit off the enslavement of foreigners. We cannot have jobs in New Zealand waters being done by foreigners while quarter of a million Kiwis are out of work. We cannot have our natural resources wasted like this.
I’m so disgusted at the way the quota holders are abusing their workers, the natural resource, and the country that I’d almost call for simply nationalising the quotas and rebuilding the industry from scratch to to run in the long-term interests of the country. Wouldn’t do though, since the biggest quota holders got them through Treaty settlements.
So, that option out, I see a solution on two fronts:
The first is legislating against foreign charter vessels (we don’t have FTAs with the countries they’re coming from) because it’s clear that trying to hold them to New Zealand labour law while they’re in NZ waters isn’t working, and, anyway, it still deprives New Zealand of the income tax from the workers and the downstream jobs from processing the fish.
The second is for the government to help with the capital the industry would need in lieu of the foreign vessels and a bit of a payback for the higher costs the industry would face from employing Kiwis to do the fishing. I’m not talking big handouts. This is a $4 billion a year industry, they can afford to buy their own boats. But the government could give low-interest loans to help the boatbuilding industry here add the capacity for building large fishing vessels and for the quota-holders to buy them. It could also assist in building up the human capital. That investment would be more than recouped by getting a couple of thousand people off the dole and into well-paying (and tax-generating) jobs and it would stop the industry squealing too loudly.