In 2010 following a trawler sinking in the seas off the Chatham Islands, a Sunday Star Times expose on the working conditions inside fishing trawlers operating out of New Zealand raised some hugely damning questions. People on the ships, mainly Indonesian men working to save money to send back to their families were complaining about sexual, physical and psychological abuse. They were complaining about the withholding of wages, stand over tactics and illegal dumping of fish. The public were horrified. So what has changed?
Sadly, not a lot. In fact, one wonders if it has worsened.
New Zealand is a nation that prides itself on being a safe place to work. It prides itself on being supposedly first world. And yet the abuses that have been happening on fishing vessels in our waters have been consistent with slave labour. And most insultingly to those who work honestly and fairly in the industry, those who really do look after their crews, it seems that a major failing of New Zealand’s obligations under international labour statutes is in progress. Why are the Department of Labour and the Ministry for Primary Industries not acting on these problems? The authorities seem to have failed to weed out the perpetrators, failed to weed out the boats too dangerous to go to sea and failed to show that New Zealand is better than that.
It was not in 2010 or the years since, is not now or in the future, good enough. This should not be happening.
But it is. A few examples:
- Oyang 70 sinks off the New Zealand coast, killing six people in August 2010
- Crew of Oyang 75 walk off their ship in Lyttelton in protest at their treatment – big fines are handed down to senior officers of the ship; Oyang 75 also involved in illegal dumping of fish
- Oyang 77 involved in illegal dumping of fish at sea in order to legitimize their catch
If it is for example Sajo Oyang trawlers in New Zealand causing the trouble, as their ships were in 2010, maybe it is time to send Oyang Corporation packing. Maybe it is time to hit them with the hardest fines New Zealand labour law can hand down. Payable within a matter of days. If any are at sea, have the navy arrest them. Have Ministry of Primary Industry inspectors ready to board the ships the moment they are docked in a New Zealand port. The time for decisive action is now.
But let this not be a Sajo Oyang specific issue. Let this be a New Zealand fisheries issue where any company with fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters, the charters by which they abide, their compliance with New Zealand maritime laws, comes under the spotlight. Let this be the occasion where we show we are capable of being the first world nation we are and clean this up.
Because nothing less will do.