Winning workers' rights
|South Korean trawler Sureste 707|
Two years ago 32 Indonesian crewmen deserted the South Korean deep-sea trawler Oyang 75 in a New Zealand port. Ship jumping is a serious issue, but these men are now being hailed as heroes. Duncan Graham reports from Christchurch.
Streets are unlikely to be renamed in their honor and there’ll be no national grieving when they pass away, but the Javanese crew who decided to be slaves no longer have revolutionized a brutal and poorly regulated industry.
“Their actions have cleared the path for other crews to follow and exposed the wrongs so many have suffered,” said the Rev Jolyon White, social justice enabler for the Anglican Church.
His assessment was echoed by Christchurch Indonesian Society president ‘Nonie’ Elyana Thenu and her predecessor Dr Ani Kartikasari. (right) “They are brave men, heroes,” they said. “What they’ve done has made a difference.”
The words have substance. Publicity about the plight of foreign fishing crews working on Korean boats fishing icy sub-Antarctic waters have forced the NZ government to radically change the way these craft operate and crews are recruited.
New immigration rules have been introduced impacting on Indonesian agents who hire crews. The agents must be approved, not charge workers for their services or hold collateral against the men completing their contracts.
Withholding passports, payouts, land certificates and other valuables are said to be widespread, holding the fishermen and their families to ransom.
From May 2016 foreign fishing fleets operating out of NZ ports will have to follow local legislation. By sailing under other flags they’ve avoided NZ labor laws restricting work hours, health and safety rules and minimum pay rates, currently NZ$13.75 (RP 110,000) an hour.
Academics and lawyers have been helping to expose cheating, brutality and abuse allegedly suffered by Indonesians on Korean fishing boats, but Nonie and Ani have been at the sharp end of the campaign.
There are around 150 Indonesians living in the Christchurch region. Ani, 50, arrived to study for a PhD in environmental management and stayed to work at Lincoln University.
Nonie, 51, (left) followed her Kiwi husband to NZ 17 years ago.
Ani’s involvement started on a June afternoon in 2011 when she was called to Lyttelton, the port servicing Christchurch, a city smashed by an earthquake only four months earlier with the loss of 185 lives.
She found the 32 men shivering in a church. “They were very cold, most wearing cotton jackets,” she recalled. “The heaters on the walls were on but their faces could not hide the exhaustion and fatigue from the previous sleepless night when they discussed their plight together.
“At 4 am that day, they had walked off the Korean factory trawler they’d worked on for months. In the dark they found the only church building that was still standing. They waited outside until the vicar turned up, letting them in and organizing breakfast.
“When asked later how they had found the church to shelter them they said they had no idea where to find a mosque where they would expect to find refuge.” There is no mosque in Lyttelton, also badly damaged by the earthquake.
For the next fortnight government agencies and Indonesian Embassy staff interviewed the crew. Their employer tried to keep the issue quiet, but the men said they’d had enough of being underpaid, and suffering physical and verbal abuse. They also alleged illegal fishing practices.
This charge attracted the attention of NZ authorities. This year the Oyang 75 was fined NZ $10,500 (Rp 85 million) for secretly discharging waste at sea. Last year it was fined NZ $420,000 (Rp 3.4 billion) for dumping low-grade fish.
“While all this was going on, the fishing company threatened to send them home for breach of contract,” said Ani. “Fortunately, a network of local people had started to form, offering support and this threat eventually stopped.
“However, the company refused to pay for the accommodation and food for the reason that the crewmen no longer worked for them. Their manning agents in Indonesia also started to pressure the crew to go back to work and even threatening their families back home, misinforming them that their sons and husbands were in trouble with the authorities in NZ.”
The men were sustained by Indonesian and Kiwi supporters including one anonymous donor who gave NZ$10,000 (Rp 80 million) for food and lodgings.
This wasn’t the first time Indonesian crews had made the news. A year earlier the Oyang 70 capsized 740 kilometers off the NZ east coast when it tried to haul in an extra large catch, drowning six men including three Indonesians. Their bodies were recovered and repatriated.
The coronial inquest using evidence from Indonesian survivors translated by Ani and Nonie found “mismanagement by the master” sank the ship.The Maritime Union said the inquest revealed "a stain on NZ’s conscience that these ships of shame were allowed to operate."
Nonie has been back to Java twice to help the men’s families and make a film. She has also been invited to Korea by a human rights organization to explain how Indonesian crew are treated when working on that nation’s ships.
The two women also praised Auckland University researchers and lawyers with the international Slave Free Seas group for supporting the Indonesian fishermen.
“Whatever it takes”
Anto Fantanto (left, orange top), Suprianto (behind) and Entis Sutisna
The blue-hulled stern trawler Sureste 707 lies idle in a NZ harbor while in Rev Jolyon White’s suburban Christchurch home three of its Indonesian crew wait for justice.
They were among a group of 21 men who followed the example of their mates from the Oyang 75 and deserted their ship in February this year alleging non-payment of wages and abuse. Six other Indonesians decided to stay on board fearing repercussions against their families, while 18 accepted some payments and flew home.
But Anto Fantanto,40, of Boyolali in Central Java, and Suprianto, 29, and Entis Sutisna, 32, both of Tegal, about 300 kilometers east of Jakarta. are staying in Christchurch to take legal action against their former employer.
Without work visas, and living in a non-smoking house full of English books and no TV, time drags. However Entis was the ship’s cook so keeps his mates fed with Indonesian food.
“We were hit by the ship’s officers, though not in NZ waters, and called a pig and a dog,” said Anto. Entis claimed he had to pay Indonesian agents Rp 4.5 million to get the job and was owed about NZ $2,400 (Rp 19 million) in unpaid wages.
“It’s very important that Indonesians read and understand the contracts we are offered,” said Entis. New NZ rules prohibit coercion and debt bondage but it is difficult to see how these can be enforced in Indonesia.
The men said that through a network of Indonesian crewmen on foreign vessels they’d got the names and numbers of people in NZ who would help them if they had legitimate complaints.
Rev White said he and other activists would “do whatever it takes” to keep the men in Christchurch and help them with their case. This included running a Facebook site Not in Our Waters to expose the Indonesians’ allegations.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 8 April 2013)