The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


A group of 39 Indonesian fishermen who allege they’ve been brutally mistreated on South Korean fishing boats face deportation from New Zealand this week.

In June 32 men jumped the Oyang 75 at Lyttelton, saying they had been unpaid or badly paid, worked long hours and been beaten. Some claimed sexual abuse. They sought sanctuary in an Anglican church. A further seven quit the Shin Ji in Auckland.

(Lyttelton is the port for Christchurch, the city hit by a 7.1 earthquake last year that killed 166.)

Agus Sriyono, the Indonesian Ambassador to NZ, said he believed the men’s claims but wondered why they had continued working for the company, sometimes for years.

There was little the Embassy could do other than mediate because the men and their employers had hired lawyers to take civil action. Some issues were a matter for NZ and Korea, he said.

He said improvements had to be made in hiring labour so Indonesian agents understood NZ law. The men’s contracts specified wages around US$ 400 (Rp 3.4 million) a month, but NZ rates were higher.

“The men have been waiting for their back pay before leaving,” the Ambassador said. “I’m a bit optimistic they’ll get at least half their wages. It seems the NZ police don’t want to be involved because the alleged offences happened outside territorial waters.”

In a media statement the ship’s owners Sajo Oyang Corporation rejected the allegations, saying it was working with NZ authorities to resolve an ‘industrial dispute’.

Local people, the Anglican Diocese and the Indonesian Embassy, has supported the men in Christchurch, according to community leader Dr Ani Kartikasari. About 300 Indonesians live in the city.

Dr Ani, who has been in NZ for the past eight years, has been interpreting for the men.

“New Zealanders in general have been very kind,” she said. “One church member has given NZ$ 10,000 (Rp 70 million) anonymously. This has been used to support the men’s families. mainly in their Central Java hometown of Tegal.

“But the companies involved have been bad and nasty. The men have been working under slave conditions.”

Jolyon White, the social justice enabler with Christchurch Anglican Diocese said the men, aged between 24 and 36, were living at a motor camp.

“They are coping pretty well and have been helping the community by shovelling snow and assisting in a food bank,” he said. “Naturally they all want to get back to their families.

“The biggest concern I have is that they’ve been working under really bad and immoral contracts. These say the men and their families will forfeit all their property and be fined huge sums if they breach their contracts.”

Mr White said he and other activists were contacting human rights organizations in Indonesia to raise the men’s plight.

They were also trying to persuade the NZ police that the issue was more than just a wage dispute and involved human trafficking. If successful some of the men might be required to stay in NZ to give evidence, he said

Tomorrow (Thur 11 Aug) a seminar will be held at Auckland University to discuss research into human rights abuses on foreign charter vessels.

Researchers interviewed Indonesian fishermen in NZ and their families in Indonesia. They allegedly found ‘disturbing levels of inhumane conditions and (that these) practices have become institutionalised.’

Last year five Indonesians and one Korean died when the Korean boat Oyang 70 sank 750 kilometers off the east coast of NZ.

Ambassador Agus Sriyono said he’d met the men twice and had sent staff to Christchurch to help. The Embassy had given $NZ 2,000 (Rp 14 million) . NZ Immigration would pay for the men’s airfares and some accommodation, and try to recover the money from the ship agents, he said.

A NZ Government ministerial inquiry will be held into the operations of foreign-crewed charter vessels operating in NZ waters. However the terms of reference have yet to be announced.

NZ law requires foreign crews operating out of NZ ports to be paid NZ rates and be given regular breaks. The minimum wage is $NZ 13 (Rp 90,000) an hour.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 August 2011)