We support the seafarers

- Murray Horton

That was the headline of an article in Watchdog 76, way back in September 1994. It detailed CAFCA’s support for, and involvement in, the Seafarers Union’s campaign against the deregulation of coastal shipping. It was a fiercely fought battle, heavily supported by New Zealand shipping companies such as Lyttelton-based Pacifica. But a decade ago was the heyday of the Bolger National government’s mania to get the State out of everything it could think of, and the Maritime Transport Act, which opened up domestic shipping to foreign ships with foreign crews, eventually passed by one vote, in 1994. Despite being the Government since 1999, Labour has done nothing about it.

The results have been entirely predictable. The numbers of New Zealand ships and Kiwi seafarers working in the waters of their own country have declined drastically. Pacifica Shipping struggles along but staff numbers are still being cut. For instance, in May 2003, the company said that it would relinquish one of its four coastal freighters, with the loss of 22 jobs. Captain John Frankland, skipper of the Spirit of Vision, said: "We have taken a 23% drop in pay to try and keep our jobs but we are slowly sinking into an abyss and there will soon be no more coastal shipping. We are interested in the New Zealand economy, giving jobs to New Zealanders, and keeping New Zealand on the road… People in the clothing industry, the shoe industry, the farmers. All these people have been crying out for subsidies and they have been completely ignored" (Press, 13/5/03, "Pacifica fleet faces cuts: 22 jobs in peril", Seth Robson). Pacifica’s Chief Executive, Rod Grout, said: "A Government-commissioned shipping inquiry in 2001 found it would cost about $14 million to protect local ships against the predatory pricing of overseas operators"(ibid.). And, he added: "Given the advantage of their tax-free status, there is no way in the world we can realistically compete with their below-cost rates, which are destabilising the local transport market. If the Government continues to procrastinate over taking measures to level this playing field, it is inevitable that more industry jobs will be lost" (Press, 20/5/03, "22 Pacifica jobs to go").

This has impacted heavily on the numbers of the Seafarers Union, one of the last from the old and honourable tradition of militant unionism. I have had dealings with the Seafarers Union for as long as I’ve been a political activist (i.e. since 1969) and when I most recently spoke to a Lyttelton stopwork meeting (in 2002), the decline in numbers was noticeable. Several years ago the union had to cease having any paid officials in the South Island and in 2003 it merged with the wharfies to become the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ).

Get The FOC Out Of NZ Coastal Waters

MUNZ has now launched a campaign in support of cabotage (namely restricting coastal shipping to New Zealand–operated and crewed vessels. It’s a system that the US has no hesitation in using in its own coastal waters). This issue of Watchdog includes a MUNZ flyer urging people to pressure MPs to restore cabotage. Dave Morgan, the Joint National President, says: "Yet we have a crazy system in New Zealand where we pursue extreme policies which no one else would touch with a barge pole…Since the former National government allowed foreign and flag of convenience (FOC) shipping in, we have had cheap Third World labour being employed in New Zealand waters while New Zealand seafarers are put out of work… We need to support New Zealand workers and New Zealand shipping companies who have a long term commitment to the New Zealand economy, to our merchant fleet, and to protecting our environment and biosecurity" (MUNZ press release, 9/7/03, "Maritime Union hits streets in support of New Zealand coastal shipping"). And: "New Zealand is the odd man out in allowing floating sweatshops to operate in our coastal waters. The situation is loose, sloppy and needs to be resolved before we edge into banana republic status, where we have no control or even knowledge about what is going on a mile off our coastline…The Labour government has a moral, social and economic duty to do the right thing for New Zealand workers and those working in New Zealand waters" (MUNZ press release, 8/8/03; "NZ shipping campaign receives boost". The boost in question was from the Australian High Court which, in August 2003, ruled that FOC ships in Australian waters will have to come under Australian employment law, wages and conditions).

CAFCA supports MUNZ in this campaign and we urge our members and supporters to do likewise. As for the flag of convenience shippers, we suggest they get the FOC out of New Zealand coastal waters.

It takes a lot of work to compile and write the material presented on these pages - if you value the information, please send a donation to the address below to help us continue the work.

Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. August 2003.

Email cafca@chch.planet.org.nz

greenball Return to Watchdog 103 Index