Global unions the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural and Hospitality Workers) today applauded the steps forward made in preventing often shocking abuse of crews on fishing vessels in New Zealand waters. They were reacting to the progress of a bill in the New Zealand parliament to protect workers on non-NZ fisheries vessels classed as foreign charter vessels (FCVs), and praised the work of New Zealand trade unions in delivering positive change for workers in the industry.
The Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill will mean that FCV vessels will need to be flagged in New Zealand – bringing them and those on them under the country’s laws and protection. It completed its second reading on 15 April 2014 with support from all sides of the house.
The New Zealand Government rejected changes to the Bill at the Select Committee that would have allowed exemptions from the new law, including fishing boats using treaty settlement quota and fishing for migratory species. Exemptions will remain for specific vessels engaged in research purposes.
The new law would require all FCVs except those operating within certain specified criteria to be reflagged to New Zealand while operating within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Liz Blackshaw is programme leader for the joint ITF/IUF Catcher to counter initiative, which works with fishers to build worker representation and improve conditions across the fishing industry. She commented: “Reflagging FCV vessels is an important step in cleaning up New Zealand’s fishing industry and removing ‘slave ships’ from its waters. The government made the right decision in removing exemptions, as these would have provided loopholes to get around the law.
“The change in the law is long overdue and there were still many outstanding issues in the industry, including a major court action currently in progress over underpayment of wages.”
IUF general secretary Ron Oswald commented: “The unions’ campaign was all about improving conditions for fisheries workers – something that this bill finally addresses.”
“However,” he added, “we are also seeking to help these workers unionise, and develop secure jobs in value-added processing within the national industry, and this should be a priority for New Zealand”.
He concluded: “The progress of this bill is a result of the hard work of New Zealand unions including the Maritime Union of New Zealand, the Merchant Service Guild and the Service and Food Workers’ Union.”