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Is this where New Zealand is heading?

18 October 2011 3 comments

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SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.

Despite high unemployment it was hard to get New Zealanders to work on fishing boats.

New Zealanders did not like being at sea for weeks at a time, working in uncomfortable conditions and living in an isolated and enforced alcohol and drug free environment.

“It is not seen as an attractive work place for many people.”

SeaFIC says FCVs [Foreign Controlled Vessels] hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.”

It named Fisher & Paykel, Fonterra and Icebreaker.

Air New Zealand uses Chinese crew on its China service who are paid less than New Zealanders doing the same jobs.

Without referring to the Rena grounding it said most ships operating on the New Zealand coast are crewed by people from the same low wage countries used by FCVs.

It said New Zealand was seen in other countries as a source of cheap skilled labour and pointed to Qantas hiring New Zealand crews at rates lower than Australians would get. The New Zealand film industry was based on cheap labour, SeaFIC said. 

There were not enough New Zealanders to fill vacancies created if FCVs were ordered out.

The inquiry opened public submissions in Wellington today. It will hold hearings in Auckland, Nelson and Christchurch.

It was set up following a University of Auckland study into FCVs and media reports citing cases of labour abuse and exploitation.

Last year an aged FCV, Oyang 70, sank off the Otago coast, killing six.

The government in setting up the inquiry said they were concerned at the damage to reputation New Zealand was suffering over FCVs and allegations it  was a form of human trafficking.

SeaFIC say there is no evidence that FCV companies are failing to pay their crews according a code of practice which requires crews to receive the New Zealand minimum wage.

New Zealand’s reputation is not a function of compliance by the companies, but the result of public opinion.

“The intensity of comment in the media, whether based on fact or allegation, may present risk to international reputation.”

FCV crews do not pay tax or Accident Compensation levies.

“A tax paying, single New Zealand resident not entitled to any additional tax or welfare assistance would need to earn $37,650 gross ($32,760 net) to be better paid than a crewman on a FCV.”

Through FCVs, the fishing industry was transferring over $65 million annually to citizens of developing countries.

By comparison, it said, the New Zealand Government gave just $31 million to Oxfam and Volunteer Service Aboard to work in such countries.

SeaFIC admitted that their submission was not supported by all its members and amounted only to a majority view of fishing quota owners who use FCVs.

Source

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Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson says reports alleging the failure of some FCVs to comply with proper employment requirements, including crew working conditions, and vessel safety standards imposed by New Zealand had raised the Government’s concern.

We also acknowledge the recent concerns expressed by the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) and others representing the interests of crew members regarding these issues,” says Ms Wilkinson. Source

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It seems that the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC ) has a novel solution to  Ms Wilkinson’s concerns:  instead of strengthening monitoring and enforcement of New Zealand’s employment laws and regulations –  SeaFIC wants to eliminate those ‘pesky’ laws for overseas workers, and import more cheap labour.

It’s akin to resolving the drink-driving problem in this country by simply eliminating blood-alcohol laws. Result; no more convictions of drunk drivers.

Sorted.

Yeah, right.

SeaFIC’s plea for importing more cheap labour is perhaps one of the most rotten and bizarre of neo-liberal ideology. It is not just immoral, it is a threat to workers throughout New Zealand.  It is also based on some rather strange ‘facts’ that bear no relation to reality.

The SeaFIC submission states,

“SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.  Despite high unemployment it was hard to get New Zealanders to work on fishing boats.”

But SEEK.co.nz and Careers NZ indicate that this is not the case. SEEK had only two vacancies listed,

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Source

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Careers NZ states,

What are the chances of getting a job?

Job opportunities for fishing deckhands are average.

According to Department of Labour estimates, the number of fishing deckhands declined by about 9% between June 2006 and June 2011 – from 1,856 to 1,694. Despite this, opportunities arise regularly, as people often leave the job after a short time, especially on deep-water vessels.

Regular opportunities on deep-sea fishing boats

Although few new positions are being created, the demanding nature of the work and the long periods spent away from home mean turnover among fishing deckhands on deep-sea fishing boats can be high, and positions regularly become available.

Positions usually become available on a boat at the end of each fishing trip, though these are normally filled by at-sea seafood processors already working on the boat. Starting out as an at-sea seafood processor is a good step towards getting work as a deckhand on a deep-sea vessel.

How to increase your chances of finding work

Most jobs for fishing deckhands become available before the start of each fishing season. The season varies by fish species – for example, the hoki season usually starts in late July, so fishing companies look for deckhands in June and early July. 

Gaining a pre-employment qualification in vessel operations or seafood processing, or having experience processing fish onshore will also help your chances.

Fishing deckhand positions are not always advertised, with employers relying on word of mouth or expressions of interest to find new deckhands. So, a good way to improve your chances of finding work is to approach a fishing company or skipper directly, and give them your CV. Source

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Not only is there no mention of a labour shortage, but it is stated quite clearly that fishing deckhand positions are not always advertised, with employers relying on word of mouth or expressions of interest to find new deckhands.

Businesses that do not advertise for staff usually do so because it is unnecessary.

The website also states, that  “…opportunities arise regularly, as people often leave the job after a short time, especially on deep-water vessels.

A high turn-over does not equate to lack of staff. Other industries such as the fast food/restaurant industry can have up to  90%  turn-over in staffing. New employees are generally easy to find. This “churn” is often the result of staff moving on to better-paid employment elsewhere as well as other influences.

SeaFIC claims,

A tax paying, single New Zealand resident not entitled to any additional tax or welfare assistance would need to earn $37,650 gross ($32,760 net) to be better paid than a crewman on a FCV.”

This is contradicted by both Careers NZ and Talleys,

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Source

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Acording to Career NZ, fishing deckhands can earn from $35,000 to $85,000, depending on various factors, including whether the vessel is in-shore or deep-sea fishing. With a potential salary of $90,000,  SeaFIC’s concerns appear to be exagerated.

However, if SeaFIC is concerned that the low-entry salary of $35,000 is insufficient remuneration to attract new staff, the answer seems blindingly obvious: pay more.

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Source

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The wages mentioned above seem to refute SeaFIC’s claims.

If it is correct that “FCV crews do not pay tax or Accident Compensation levies ” –  that is a problem that should be addressed without extremist policies that negatively impact on local  jobs and incomes.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of SeaFIC’s comments is this,

SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.“”

This, then, seems to be the underlying subtext of SeaFIC’s submission to the Ministerial Inquiry: to import low-waged workers to New Zealand.

The implications of such a proposal are stunning in their audacity – and probably the most subversive since Roger Douglas first began neo-liberal “reforms” in this country in the mid-1980s.

Effectively,  the SeaFIC proposal would mean that cheap labour would be imported into NZ and would quickly  replace higher-waged New Zealanders. New Zealand workers would be competing with workers from Fiji, Philippines, China, India,  etc.

The nett effect would be to drive down wages in this country.

Eventually, the SeaFIC proposal could be extended throughout the country. Workers from Third World countries could be employed for all manner of jobs. Once precedent was set by SeaFIC, it would be difficult for other industries not to follow suit.

This would be an attack on workers like no other in the history of this country. It would make the 1951 Waterfront Dispute  and the de-unionisation of New Zealand workers pale into insignificance.

It would be interesting to learn how the SeaFIC proposal could possibly  be contemplated or enacted by a National-led government, given that John Key has made raising wages one of his administration’s prime policies.

If you’re starting to wonder at how an organisation such as SeaFIC could be bold enough to make such a repugnant proposal  – re-read the article above.

There is no name penned to the submission.  Aside from the organisation name given as the source – no individual(s) have put their name to the submission.

I am guessing that none would dare.

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Top 5 companies

  1. Sanford Ltd
  2. Aotearoa Fisheries Ltd
  3. Sealord Ltd
  4. Talley’s Fisheries Ltd
  5. Ngai Tahu Fisheries Settlement Ltd

Source

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Seafood Industry Council – Current Board members

Dave Sharp, Chairman

Eric Barratt, Managing Director, Sanford Ltd

Peter Vitasovich, Chair, Aquaculture New Zealand

Jeremy Fleming, CEO, Aotearoa Fisheries Ltd

Ross Tocker, General Manager Operations, Sealord Group Ltd

Andrew Talley, Director, Talley’s Fisheries Ltd

Daryl Sykes, Executive Director, New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council

Tony Threadwell, Director, Pegagus Fishing Ltd

Source

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Related stories

‘Model’ fishers face grim charges

 

 

References

NZ Govt: Ministerial inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels

Seafood Industry Council

Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) Foreign Charter Vessels Submission

Seafood industry fact file

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