The Maritime Union says the weekend incident when a group of Chinese fishermen jumped overboard in Wellington Harbour should be setting alarm bells ringing.
Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says the incident is just one of a continuous series of ship jumping and problems experienced by crew onboard foreign and joint venture fishing boats.
“The Maritime Union has been continually pointing out that there is something badly wrong as overseas crews are being subjected to abuse and exploitation while they are in New Zealand waters, and even New Zealand ports.”
He says the act of the Chinese fishermen jumping overboard with their suitcases while in the middle of the harbour was one of desperation, and it seemed likely that one crew member may have drowned.
The situation was made even more outrageous because local crews were being laid off New Zealand fishing vessels, then replaced by overseas crews employed on rock bottom wages and conditions in a climate of fear and secrecy.
“It is simply a case of further exploitation of workers, using one against another to compete for employment in the international market.”
Mr Hanson says because it is happening on the New Zealand coast there is no excuse for it to be ignored by politicians and bureaucrats.
He says that the latest incident in Wellington harbour could probably be seen from Lambton Quay, so the situation could no longer be ignored and urgent attention was required.
Mr Hanson says that overseas crews are regularly jumping ship throughout New Zealand, and says a recent incident in Bluff where crew jumped ship from the ‘Melilla 201’ had revealed a history of death, injury and pollution on that ship and its sister ship the ‘Melilla 203.’
He says a report has been put together by the Department of Labour about conditions onboard joint venture fishing vessels, but has not been made public.
“The Maritime Union is concerned that under free trade agreements, the problems being experienced now will be magnified tenfold, with short-term, casual labour being moved between countries to push down wages and conditions.”