Maritime NZ and funding independence

Maritime NZ have threatened the funding of any welfare organisation that informs Ukrainian crewman on Russian fishing boats that they may be able to apply for refugee status in Aotearoa.

Appropriate? We don’t think so. The situation is slightly complicated. We are looking into it further. But here is the background.

We initially got interested when a legal firm that does immigration and refugee law asked if the Ukrainians on board Russian fishing boats knew they were eligible to apply for refugee status. (We confirmed that this info was correct with an immigration advisor).

Thinking it was the decent place to start we contacted the fishing company concerned and asked how we might get that advice to them.

“No one on any of our boats is concerned in any way with anything going on in the Ukraine”, was the response.

Not reassuring. Further complicated by the boats being in lock down. No shore leave. No access to the seafarer welfare centre.

So we set up a helpline, provided a burner phone to someone in the Ukrainian society (who couldn’t use their normal name and phone due to concerns for family back home). But getting the information on board with the number to call required the assistance of Mission to Seafarers, a welfare organisation funded by Maritime NZ. The local rep initially tried to help, but was sent a cease and desist letter by the Seafarer Welfare Board (SWB) who informed us that SWB would lose their funding from MNZ if he took that information on board.

Finding that hard to believe, we got written confirmation from MNZ that any welfare organisation funded by the SWB would lose funding if they talked about refugee status in any communication with Ukrainian crew.

This despite the fact that Immigration NZ had no objection beyond the concern that it might get peoples hopes up as applying is only the first step.

Why would MNZ threaten funding?

No idea. We can understand why the fishing company wouldn’t want a crew member leaving before their contract was over, as that would hurt their business interest. But why MNZ should care about the individual companies business interests over their obligation to migrant workers rights, I have no idea. MNZ never really provided an explanation. I have spoken to a number of people in the sector and they were not surprised. “They never seem to want to upset the fishing companies” was how one person put it.

Our Concern

Initially our concern was for the Ukrainian crew. Whether they pursued refugee status or not we believed they should at least know their options.

Our concern now is about the independence of welfare in the sector. More specifically :

  • A fishing company can make their own decision about locking down a boat regardless of how long they have been at sea and communication is only possible by standing on the doc and yelling up to the captain. The port authority, unions, and welfare organizations could do no more than that. In a sector with long standing abuse issues, that places far to much trust in fishing companies and captains. Transparency is always a good thing.
  • A government agency can threaten the funding of welfare groups in a way that prevents them putting the interest of crew first.
  • There is no scope for advocacy in the current system.

Next Steps

Firstly we want more information. It may be more complicated that we have so far found.

We are interested to know if MNZ has made their own decision on this or if the Minister (in this case Hon Michael Wood) agrees with their decision. We are waiting on a response.

After we feel like we understand what is going on better we will decide what to do.