Why four years? Researchers query

25 May 2012

Four years is too long to implement Government policy changes requiring foreign charter fishing vessels to be reflagged and crew treated like New Zealand workers, one of The University of Auckland Business School academics responsible for revealing shocking human rights abuses says.

Dr Christina Stringer, who along with PhD student Glenn Simmons, undertook two years of research examining the systemic labour and human rights abuses aboard Korean foreign charter vessels that resulted in a Government announcement to clean up the industry, says she is pleased and gratified at the changes announced this week.

However, she questions why a four-year implementation period is necessary, and feels that the timetable should be much sooner.

“We really can’t understand why the gap is so long, and would like some confirmation of why four years is needed, particularly when there is clear evidence that the government and industry knew of incidents of abuse in the past,” she says.

“Of concern to us are the numerous unresolved abuse and underpayment of wages complaints. We hope that officials will now turn their attention to resolving these complaints.”

Speaking from Iceland, where she and Mr Simmons are carrying out research on how fisheries companies can move up the value chain through changes to their business models, Dr Stringer says she understands that their research has somewhat improved conditions aboard some of the vessels.

“But there are still a number of problems aboard the foreign charter vessels, and we certainly hope that the reflagging of vessels – meaning that the vessels will be under New Zealand’s full jurisdiction – will put a stop to the labour and human rights abuse,” she says.

The pair undertook New Zealand’s first comprehensive study examining foreign crew employment conditions aboard chartered foreign fishing vessels after the sinking of the Oyang 70 in 2010, resulting in six deaths.

The research agenda didn’t fully develop until last year, when Indonesian crews from two Korean vessels engaged in industrial action due to ongoing physical, mental and sexual abuse. The research found that disturbing levels of abuse was widespread on Korean charter fishing vessels.

With around 300 interviewees, including foreign crew and industry experts, the research has attracted international media coverage, and was recently cited in the Bloomsberg Businessweek, the largest in North America.

“It is really nice to see that our research has had a very positive impact, not only on the wider industry but more importantly for New Zealand as a whole,” Dr Stringer says. “The benefits can’t be understated, and we are very happy at what has been achieved by the Government ... but we do have continuing concerns.”