NGO: New Zealand Seafarer Welfare Centers Lack Government Support

file photo
file photo

Published Apr 16, 2020 7:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.K.-based charity Human Rights at Sea has published a report on what it says is the precarious state of welfare support for seafarers visiting New Zealand.

The report titled: “New Zealand: Under-Funding of Seafarers’ Welfare Services and Poor MLC Compliance” was commissioned by the Rev. John McLister of the Lyttelton Parish (Mission to Seafarers New Zealand). It states that the long-term maintenance of seafarers’ centers remains under constant threat due to a deficiency of committed Government and local maritime industry support. 

The report commissioned pro bono in October 2019 has involved an independent review of disclosed documentation raising ongoing port chaplaincy concerns, legal opinion, Government responses and New Zealand Seafarer Welfare Board (SWB) attempts to secure sustainable resourcing. Its findings and recommendations should be noted, not just in New Zealand, but around the world for emerging seafarer’s Port Welfare Committees and partnerships, says Human Rights at Sea.
“To date, it has been the uncompromising charity of local people and parishioners in terms of their funding and volunteering in affected port communities that has been, and continues to be, the backbone of the provision of assistance to visiting seafarers.” Nonetheless, such local charity is not a sustainable option, especially when looking to the welfare provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) of which the New Zealand Government is a signatory, has ratified, and which was brought into force on March 9, 2016.

The report alleges that, at the time of writing, the New Zealand Government has seemingly failed to support the Maritime Labour Convention, its intent and the reasonable and necessary welfare provisions for seafarers. Further, the Government has apparently not engaged with the International Labour Organisation as per its State reporting requirements.

The report cites as an example, the cost of running New Zealand’s Seafarers’ Welfare Facilities: “In 2017, it cost New Zealand seafarers’ welfare charities over $700,000 to finance New Zealand’s shore-based welfare centers. Apart from a small grant of $5,000 from Maritime New Zealand, two $5,000 grants from port authorities, and one $5,000 grant from the Christchurch Council, funding of shore-based welfare facilities is primarily shouldered by the seafarers’ welfare charities. 

“The New Zealand Government, shipping companies, most port authorities and entities that own ports make little or no financial contribution to the care of seafarers visiting New Zealand ports. The cost of running welfare centers would be much higher if it were not for the reliance on voluntary labor to staff seafarers’ centers. It is estimated that in 2017, using the independent volunteer sector rate of $23.00 per hour, volunteers contributed $600,000 to staffing New Zealand’s shore-based welfare centers.”

Human Rights at Sea recommends:

1. That the New Zealand Government immediately review the funding mechanism, or lack thereof, for shore-based seafarers’ welfare facilities and services under the MLC throughout the State;
2. That the New Zealand Government draft and propose relevant amendments to national legislation to support seafarer’s welfare services, for example to the Maritime Transport Act 1994 in order to give effect to Regulation 4.4 of the MLC;
3. That the New Zealand Government introduce an updated compulsory port levy system in line with that advocated by the ITF ICC, and other maritime welfare organizations, which specifically focus on sustainably delivering seafarers’ welfare services;
4. In the alternative, it is recommended that the New Zealand Government ring fence and allocate part of the current Maritime Levy currently in place to assure future funding and the protection of seafarer’s welfare facilities and services;
5. That the SWB raise a formal complaint with the ILO for non-compliance with a Convention obligation should the New Zealand Government fail to subsequently act.

McLister says: “We are three weeks into the lockdown, and while the Government is rightly focussed on COVID-19 concerns, more than any time in our history are we reliant on our maritime trade. This has not stopped, but seafarer’s rights have been severely curtained under the present crisis. The best way we could honor the essential work seafarers are doing is to ensure when the crisis eases the have decent facilities for them.

“This report from Human Rights at Sea independently supports our concerns and articulates them for all to comprehend.” 

Human Rights at Sea has contacted the Government of New Zealand for comment.