Wednesday, December 07, 2016
Three months after the AP revealed slave-like conditions aboard boats in the Hawaii fishing fleet, no fix is in sight
Another threat to Hawaii’s tuna and swordfish fisheries are the deplorable conditions for foreign workers on the boats, recently described as “slave-like,” by the Associated Press. The treatment of these workers is unjust and un-American. These disgraceful conditions are perpetuated by boat owners who do not want to pay the minimum wage, so they jump through immigration loopholes to employ foreigners, many of them desperate, and are often indebted to the owners. What will the owners do if they are forced to pay their workers a living wage? Will they give everyone a raise and start hiring American citizens, or will they move the fleet to an island country where these conditions are allowed? We assume it will be the latter, and when that happens it will not be the fault of the conservationists, but that of the fishing boat owners, who put personal profits first.—article in The Hill
by Larry Geller
Despite world-wide publicity resulting from Associated Press articles that exposed slave-like conditions aboard Hawaii’s long line fishing fleet, almost exactly three months after the story broke, nothing has been done to bring relief to the foreign fishermen.
Hawaii’s government leaders came in for withering criticism Tuesday at a Capitol Hill forum on abusive labor conditions for foreign fishermen employed as contract workers.
Witnesses described working conditions on the Hawaii-based tuna fleet as “tragic,” “gruesome,” “unconstitutional” and “brutal,” asserting that the foreign workers have been exempted from U.S. labor laws and protections to boost the profits of the fishing industry.
[Civil Beat, Activist: Officials Care More About Fish Than People Aboard Ships, 20161207]
Fishing "is used as a tool for slavery," said Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, a Honolulu-based advocacy group.
Xian and other speakers at the forum urged Congress to close the loophole that allows workers to stay on the boats without coming ashore.
[from the forum held in Washington DC yesterday, widely reported in an AP story]
See Disappeared News article below for a video of the forum.
From the Civil Beat article:
About 60 people attended the event, including Capitol Hill staffers and officials from the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Justice Department.
It was held in a meeting room located just upstairs of a giant statue of King Kamehameha in the rotunda of the Capitol Visitors Center.
Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, which has been issuing licenses to foreign fishermen confined to ships and unable to land in Hawaii, continues the practice even though it is in clear violation of Hawaii state law to do so. The signatures of these fishermen are obtained by the captains or owners without the assistance of translators, another violation of state law and also of federal law.
A petition to correct DLNR’s rules so as to conform to state and federal law was denied at the hearing. [disclosure: I am one of the signers of the petition]
Congress has not yet closed the loophole that permits workers to remain on the boats in deportation status, with the ship captains holding their passports.
In the absence of action either in Hawaii or in Congress, conditions aboard Hawaii’s long line fishing fleet will likely remain unchanged for the short term. The Associated Press can be expected to follow the situation, and Hawaii will continue to be embarrassed by the resulting world-wide coverage until indeed something changes to bring relief to the fishermen.
Subscribers to the Star-Advertiser may find an article on the forum buried in back of the business section on page B7, just before the obituaries. Apparently November home, condo sales jump is a more important story to the editors.