by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — University of Auckland researchers have concluded that many Indonesian crew on Korean chartered fishing vessels in New Zealand waters are victims of human trafficking for forced labour.
That’s what Dr Christina Stringer, senior lecturer at the university’s Department of Management and International Business, told a meeting of Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking at St Benedict’s church crypt, Newton, on July 25.
Dr Stringer and co-researcher Glenn Simmons had interviewed 76 Indonesian crew who had been aboard 12 Korean vessels from 1998 to 2011, as well as amassing thousands of documents.
The Korean vessels were chartered by some New Zealand fishing companies, who have fishing quota, to come to New Zealand waters and fish on their behalf.
Dr Stringer and Mr Simmons concluded that the men interviewed essentially met the International Labour Organisation and European Commission criteria for trafficked persons. They were subject to deceptive and coercive recruitment practices, employed in exploitative working conditions and subjected to various forms of serious abuse.
n Sexual abuse
Some of the stories of abuse of these crewmen by Korean officers left Dr Stringer’s audience wide-eyed with horror.
Sexual harrassment on these vessels was common, ranging from indecent exposure to repeated acts of anal rape.
“These are Muslim men, it is very hard for anyone to talk [about this], but for these very humble men to talk about this situation, it took a lot of time and a lot of trust. Often they wouldn’t actually verbalise it, they would write it,” Dr Stringer said.
She also spoke about physical assaults that would leave crewmen injured for days without treatment, punishments like having to stand on deck exposed to the weather for hours for minor infractions, being fed rotten fish bait instead of proper food, enduring extremely long working hours, a lack of protective clothing and safety equipment, damp and freezing accommodation and Muslims being called “dogs”, “monkeys” and other names.
Indonesian crew rescued from the Oyang 70 vessel that sank in New Zealand waters in 2010 with the loss of six lives described the conditions on the New Zealand vessel that rescued them as like being in a hotel by comparision.
But abusive working conditions and exploitation were only some hallmarks of trafficking. There’s also the manning agents back in Indonesia, who sign up the workers and demand collateral from them like titles to land, houses and motorbikes, in case they don’t finish their one- to two-year contract.
Some Indonesian contracts signed by the crew state they must be “completely submissive and obedient”, and guarantee them far less pay than they are entitled to under the New Zealand contracts they are supposed to sign. Under the Code of Practice for Foreign Fishing Crew introduced in New Zealand in 2006, the crew are supposed to get no less than the minimum wage. But they typically received only $US250-500 a month and the manning agent, through whom all the money is channelled, takes a cut and deducts fees.
Some of the crew spoken to by Dr Stringer and Mr Simmons said they had never sighted their New Zealand contracts and the signatures on copies they were shown were forged or false. Workers were often bullied into signing false time sheets and typically work 16 hours a day.
“We had one interviewee who told us he worked a 53 hours shift before he was allowed a break. Others talked about dumping fish . . . so they didn’t have to process them and could then take a break. That’s how desperate they were.”
Foreign crew on New Zealand vessels, by comparison, earn the minimum wage and get to work six hours on and six hours off.
Other abuses of Indonesians included confinement in port aboard the ship and non-payment of monies owed for the smallest infraction.
Monitoring the Code of Practice compliance, which bans violence against workers and unsafe work conditions, is theoretically the role of the New Zealand company that contracted the charter vessel, Dr Stringer said.
Yet many of the Indonesian workers said New Zealand was a preferred destination, compared to work conditions elsewhere.
Research by Dr Stringer and colleagues published through the New Zealand Asia Institute helped prompt a ministerial inquiry into foreign charter vessels.
The Government announced earlier this year that foreign-flagged vessels will no longer be able to operate in New Zealand waters after a four-year transition period.
Primary Industries Minister David Carter said re-flagging would strengthen compliance with New Zealand laws and provide more transparency.
According to a ministerial statement, foreign crews will be better protected during the four-year transition period with stronger monitoring and enforcement, including tougher independent audits, safety monitoring on vessels and enhanced onboard observer coverage.
The Korean Government has also launched an investigation, prompted by the Korean Human Rights Commission.
A delegation of 16 Korean Government officials came to New Zealand Dr Stringer said.
She noted that there were 21 foreign charter vessels fishing in New Zealand waters in 2011, with around 2000 crew. Other nations from which vessels are chartered include Russia and the Ukraine, but these employ crew from their own nations and Dr Stringer is not aware of any reported abuse issues on these vessels.
Dr Stringer noted that one Kiwi company, Talleys, does not use foreign fishing vessels or foreign crews. Another Kiwi company has for some time set up bank accounts for foreign crew and pays wages directly to them. The company then pays the manning agent.
Dr Stringer hopes that their research, when published, will contribute to the growing awareness of human trafficking problems in New Zealand.
Both the United Nations and United States of America State Department reports have confirmed that trafficking does happen in New Zealand. But there has been little research into it.
A documentary dealing with aspects of the fishing industry, including the abuses detailed by Dr Stringer, screened on TV3 on August 2.
• Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking is a relatively newly-formed group with members
from several religious orders, including the Dominican sisters, the Society of Mary sisters, the Sacred Heart sisters, the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, the Josephite sisters, and the Franciscan
Spokesperson Sr Gemma Wilson, SM, said the group wants to learn more about the issue so it can best learn which areas of concern members can work in.
They have also signed up to the New Zealand Network Against Trafficking in Persons, alongside other religious-based groups that want to combat trafficking.