Japanese fishing company to pay 180k for exploitation of workers in NZ waters

A Japanese fishing company chartered by a New Zealand business has been ordered to pay more than $180,000 in arrears and penalties for serious employment breaches.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has made the order against Watarai Company Limited for serious breaches of minimum employment standards while its vessel, Koshin Maru 7, was chartered by New Zealand Japan Tuna Company Limited in New Zealand waters between 1 May and 23 June 2015.

The amount imposed includes $97,715.87 for minimum wage entitlements, a penalty of $80,000 and $2071.56 for costs incurred by the Labour Inspector pursuing the case.

Labour Inspectorate fishing industry lead, Jeanie Borsboom, says: “While the registration and chartering arrangements met New Zealand legislation requirements, the investigation uncovered clear exploitation of 18 Indonesian crew who were employed by Watarai for the fishing operation in New Zealand waters.”

The company’s wage and time records were not compliant with the law and the wages the crew received did not match the wages they were entitled to, based on true hours worked. The Labour Inspector calculated the crews’ wages based on notes provided by a Ministry of Primary Industries observer on board the Koshin Maru 7 and an analysis of work patterns. 

“It is very disappointing to see New Zealand operations which do not meet minimum labour standards in such a significant manner and put at risk a hard won reputation for sustainability in our fishery. This is particularly notable when it’s estimated the catch sale price of stock caught by the Koshin Maru 7 was at least $2,500,000,” says Ms Borsboom

“Any industry that relies on exploitation of workers is not sustainable. There is no justification for underpaying employees under New Zealand employment law and we do not tolerate exploitation of any worker in New Zealand territories. This result sends a clear and strong message that the fishing industry needs to provide assurances this conduct will not happen in New Zealand waters again.”

The NZ Japan Tuna Company’s shareholders are New Zealand fisheries companies Solander Blue Fin Tuna Company and Sanford. This is the second time in less than a year that a Japanese owned boat chartered by NZ Japan Tuna Company has been penalised by the ERA. Last July Japanese fishing company Ikeda Suisan Company was penalised $40,000 for breaching employment law while fishing around New Zealand in mid-2015 after having paid arrears of $82,252. Sixteen Indonesian crew members were found to have been paid on average for only half the hours they worked.

Since targeting the fishing industry in 2015, the Labour Inspectorate has issued seven improvement notices of which six required payment of arrears totalling $727,937.04. 

Ms Borsboom says every employer operating in New Zealand needs to meet its obligations under New Zealand employment law.

“This includes keeping wage, time and holiday and leave records to ensure they meet all minimum standards. Where these are not in place the Inspectorate can and will impose fines.”

Anyone concerned about their employment situation, or the situation of someone they know, should call 0800 20 90 20 where they can report their concerns in a safe environment.