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The FCV Bill – Flagging 30 years of failures?

The FCV Bill – Flagging 30 years of failures?

Paying seafarers at least a minimum wage under the Minimum Wage Act 1983 has applied to the New Zealand fishing industry for more than 30 years. It was, and is, a basic protection which had two universals – it was universally accepted by the fishing industry and relevant government agencies, and universally ignored by them as well.

The Fisheries Act 1996 specifically bought the minimum wage into focus – even then the industry ignored it and government officials did nothing to enforce it even when they continually fell over it in their operational activities.

After 150 desertions, countless claims of abuse and cruel working conditions akin to forced labour aboard foreign charter vessels (FCVs), the Code of Practice was introduced in 2006 and it was based on the capacity and ability of MBIE to audit the employer / NZ charter company in order to protect vulnerable migrant workers.

It is clear that the law has failed the migrant fishermen fishing in New Zealand’s waters.

The failures in this industry against basic human decency and human rights are legion.

MBIE – who should have been at the bridgehead to sort this – have failed on a massive scale.

They failed in their role as auditor and passed the baton to PWC and KPMG who accepted forged documents (timesheets, paysheets, visa applications) as correct and did not consider the complexity and sophistication of the business models that underpin $30M of claimed non payments to crew.

MBIE failed to stop granting Approvals in Principle (AIP) to enable the recruitment of more foreign (and underpaid) crew.

They failed to uphold the rule of law and basic civil society principles to stop exploitation.

Furthermore, they failed in the role of enforcer where we now see the Korean authorities successfully prosecuting for crimes committed in New Zealand where our authorities would not intervene (in cases of falsified documents).

Through their inaction, the MBIE has allowed for fishermen to be paid on timesheets that assert, by inference, that the fisherman defy the laws of physics and have superhuman abilities to work and process large volumes of fish in a tiny amount of time.

Slave Free Seas has been active in various courts and international forums bringing light to an array of behaviours and industry practices that are incongruous in a seemingly well-functioning civil society.

Slave Free Seas asks “how hard is it for the government and indeed the industry to enforce the laws that already exist without creating yet more laws that may or may not receive the resourcing to actually do something?”

Slave Free Seas believes the inaction of the New Zealand government on this issue shows that it is not possible to rely on officials to prevent and adequately redress human rights abuses against the most vulnerable people working in New Zealand society. Slave Free Seas has taken action to stop this occurring again by drawing on our experience to develop a toolbox of strategies that can be used by advocates around the world to hold the perpetrators of these kinds of abuses accountable for their actions.

After 30 years it seems that this Bill is a banner acknowledging that everything else has been tried and failed. The sector appears to be unbridled, strategic and determined to be outside of a regulatory framework.

It has been two years since the Ministerial Inquiry into potential labour abuse in the fishing industry, and it is two more years to 2016 – when the changes made by the Bill come into effect – and in the meantime the New Zealand government is implicitly legitimizing forced labour by allowing a business model based on exploitation to continue, without taking steps to right existing and clearly identified wrongs.


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