Fisheries officers' strike continues

As fisheries officers enter their 12th day of a strike from field duties, local resources such as paua may be vulnerable. File photo

TAIRAWHITI fisheries officers have entered their 12th day of a strike from field duties, as part of a nationwide pay dispute with their employer, the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Officers across the country are striking from regular field duties due to what they say is a lack of recognition over working “unsociable hours”.

Secretary of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) Janice Gemmell said in recent bargaining the Ministry of Primary Industries confirmed its position there would be no extra payment for weekend work.

In new contracts MPI compliance staff received a base pay increase, but fisheries officers lost their weekend loading.

The officers were expected to work up to 20 percent of the time at weekends.

“So it is essentially a good contract for those who don’t have to work weekends, but not for the officers who are expected to work weekends,” Ms Gemmell said.

An offer of time-and-a-half pay for weekend work would probably be seen as sufficient. From September 1 those striking have only been doing office work.

MPI said areas left vacant by the officers were being covered by Honorary Fisheries Officers.

However, an East Coast NUPE delegate said that was not the case here.

“Normally Honorary Fisheries Officers can cover for us but here they decided not to,” he said.

“They are supporting us. There is no cover on the ground on the East Coast.”

Over the last several years the fisheries officers had been expected to work more, but without any extra reward, he said.

“It just feels like we have been under the pump for so long.”

Their regular work included covering the black market, poaching and monitoring on vessels. They mostly dealt with paua and crayfish here.

“In this part of the country are some of the highest levels of non-compliance. It's a lot of work.”

MPI estimated the illegal take for crayfish here to be 89 tonnes annually, out of a total take of 366.86t.

The delegate said in recent years officers had been expected to take on extra jobs across the country, including animal welfare, and dealing with biosecurity issues such as the Bluff oyster parasite, myrtle rust, and most recently the mycoplasma bovis virus found in cows in the South Island.

“We have become the first port of call for most things, but are not rewarded.”

He said they accepted the nature of their job meant they needed to be available 24/7, as people typically fished in weekends, but they needed to be compensated at a higher pay rate for working “unsociable hours”.

MPI’s human resources director Erina Clayton said it was committed to reaching a settlement and was open to talking with union members directly.

“We are happy to do that together with the union.”

She said although industrial action was taking place, there were still personnel and Honorary Fishery Officers available to monitor the Gisborne/East Coast area.

But for security reasons she said it would not be appropriate to provide operational details such as where officers would be based or patrolling.

“Should an urgent response be required we have the capacity to take action,” she said.

“We know that most people who go fishing respect the rules. People will still be able to report illegal fishing activity to the Ministry’s poaching hotline – 0800 4 POACHER.”

TAIRAWHITI fisheries officers have entered their 12th day of a strike from field duties, as part of a nationwide pay dispute with their employer, the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Officers across the country are striking from regular field duties due to what they say is a lack of recognition over working “unsociable hours”.

Secretary of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) Janice Gemmell said in recent bargaining the Ministry of Primary Industries confirmed its position there would be no extra payment for weekend work.

In new contracts MPI compliance staff received a base pay increase, but fisheries officers lost their weekend loading.

The officers were expected to work up to 20 percent of the time at weekends.

“So it is essentially a good contract for those who don’t have to work weekends, but not for the officers who are expected to work weekends,” Ms Gemmell said.

An offer of time-and-a-half pay for weekend work would probably be seen as sufficient. From September 1 those striking have only been doing office work.

MPI said areas left vacant by the officers were being covered by Honorary Fisheries Officers.

However, an East Coast NUPE delegate said that was not the case here.

“Normally Honorary Fisheries Officers can cover for us but here they decided not to,” he said.

“They are supporting us. There is no cover on the ground on the East Coast.”

Over the last several years the fisheries officers had been expected to work more, but without any extra reward, he said.

“It just feels like we have been under the pump for so long.”

Their regular work included covering the black market, poaching and monitoring on vessels. They mostly dealt with paua and crayfish here.

“In this part of the country are some of the highest levels of non-compliance. It's a lot of work.”

MPI estimated the illegal take for crayfish here to be 89 tonnes annually, out of a total take of 366.86t.

The delegate said in recent years officers had been expected to take on extra jobs across the country, including animal welfare, and dealing with biosecurity issues such as the Bluff oyster parasite, myrtle rust, and most recently the mycoplasma bovis virus found in cows in the South Island.

“We have become the first port of call for most things, but are not rewarded.”

He said they accepted the nature of their job meant they needed to be available 24/7, as people typically fished in weekends, but they needed to be compensated at a higher pay rate for working “unsociable hours”.

MPI’s human resources director Erina Clayton said it was committed to reaching a settlement and was open to talking with union members directly.

“We are happy to do that together with the union.”

She said although industrial action was taking place, there were still personnel and Honorary Fishery Officers available to monitor the Gisborne/East Coast area.

But for security reasons she said it would not be appropriate to provide operational details such as where officers would be based or patrolling.

“Should an urgent response be required we have the capacity to take action,” she said.

“We know that most people who go fishing respect the rules. People will still be able to report illegal fishing activity to the Ministry’s poaching hotline – 0800 4 POACHER.”

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