Seafood companies slammed over treatment of foreign crew workers
Madison Reidy, Business reporter
Seafood companies are being told to take responsibility for the treatment of foreign crews catching fish for them.
Labour Inspectorate national manager Stu Lumsden said there were concerns that the industry was still neglecting its obligations despite three years of discussions with the department.
"The New Zealand seafood industry has to understand that sustainability isn't all about the type of fish you're catching, or how much you catch. It's about ensuring that their employees have minimum employment standards," Mr Lumsden said.
"We're calling upon the industry to start looking at itself."
A Japanese fishing company was fined $180,000 last week by the Employment Relations Authority for underpaying 18 Indonesian crew members during a two-month trip in New Zealand waters in 2015.
The vessel, Koshin Maru 7, was catching fish for the New Zealand Japan Tuna Company, which is co-owned by two New Zealand seafood companies, Solander Blue Fin Tuna Company and Sanford.
Mr Lumsden said the companies were not charged because it could not prove they knew workers were paid below minimum wage, despite registering them and the vessel.
New Zealand Japan Tuna Company executives tried to discredit evidence about the hours crew worked, but were contradicted by closed circuit TV footage, he said.
The crew were collectively owed nearly $98,000. They caught $2.5 million worth of fish for the Nelson-based tuna company.
Ministry for Primary Industries observers, who checked catch amounts on targeted international vessels, were also gathering information about workers, which was shared.
Mr Lumsden said New Zealand seafood companies need to have systems in place to check how crew are treated, and have been told to employ external auditors to keep track.
He said the seafood companies have the obligation to make sure crew are treated in accordance with New Zealand law, and are liable for any breaches.