Report: NZ Govt ignored foreign fishing boats

The government knew of the slave-like conditions on foreign fishing boats here for eight years but was unwilling to do anything, an official investigator says.

And now that it is forcing an end to the use of foreign charter vessels (FCVs) a government agency has warned that the state may have to pay Maori iwi upwards of NZD 300 million (USD 245.6 million, EUR 191.8 million) in compensation for losing their access to ‘'slave” fishing boats.

Government action began after media and the University of Auckland Business School last year began publishing findings over FCVs using low paid, or non-paid, mainly Indonesian, Vietnamese and Filipino labor.

In June this year, Department of Labor (DoL) fraud branch manager Terry Pawson reviewed the evidence and said it could have been stopped long ago.

“The DoL appears to have been aware of at least some allegations of mistreatment of crews on FCVs since 2004, but have been unwilling or unable to fully resolve the problems in the industry,” Pawson says in a paper obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act.

He demanded “urgent consideration” of prosecutions for breaches of minimum wage provisions but little has been done.

Pawson’s memo is highly critical of DoL, saying it was difficult to investigate fraud on FCVs because of the unavailability and tardiness of documents including those collected when foreign boats were audited.

“The statements previously obtained from affected crew members by DoL staff and other interested parties were not to the legal standard required for evidential purposes," Pawson said.

He found that Indonesian crews were being paid according to contracts signed in Indonesia with manning agents — rather than the contracts purporting to show minimum wage payments presented to New Zealand authorities.

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