$elling out workers’ rights


People before profits: it’s the name of an Irish political party, several (bad) songs and part of the language of the left. The phrase is overcooked and overused, but should be seared on iwi balance sheets: put people before profits.

Under the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill vessels fishing New Zealand quota must be registered as “a New Zealand ship”. However, iwi negotiated an exemption for ships catching the Maori quota. After pressure from industry groups – including the maritime union – Nathan Guy agreed to reel in the exemption and force vessels fishing the Maori quota to register as a New Zealand ship by 2016. Iwi (rightfully angry that the government negotiated an exemption only to renege) argue that an exemption until 2020 is necessary. The cost of registering foreign vessels and complying with New Zealand law will diminish the value of the Maori quota. Well, cry me an ocean. Ensuring safe working conditions for foreign crew is more important than short run profits.

The fourth Labour government created the quota management system in 1986. Fish species are grouped in quota management stocks and fishing areas are defined in the quota management areas. In all, Maori control 35% of the quota management system. In 1989 the government bought back 10% of the quota shares it had given to other quota holders and set this aside for “the benefit of Maori”. In 1992 the then National government offered Maori a cash settlement. That settlement was accepted and used to purchase a 50% stake in Sealords. In 2004 the last Labour government “transferred control to iwi of $750m in assets as a full and final settlement… in accordance with the 1992 Fisheries Settlement.”

The iwi negotiators accepted what is, essentially, an ultra-capitalist settlement. Quotas under the system are, essentially, a form of property rights. There’s a façade of cooperative control over the Maori quota, but group management is actually non-existent. Control of Maori fisheries is centralised in a few individuals. The fisheries settlement has been effective in, firstly, extinguishing the traditional Maori approach to fisheries management and, secondly, extinguishing Maori values in the new approach to fisheries management. The negotiation and management of the settlement represents what Annette Sykes labelled “the politics of the brown table”. The famous whakatauki “he aha te mea nui o te ao – he tangata, he tangata, he tangata” becomes meaningless.

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Having negotiated and accepted a capitalist model, iwi have little right to rebuke changes in market conditions. The market has changed –the government is amending relevant legislation – and iwi must adapt their business model.

It’s a value question. Personally, workers’ rights are more important to me than short run profits. The choice should be easy.

However, directing righteous anger towards iwi isn’t entirely fair. The proper question is should iwi have had to make the choice? No.

In 2004 the Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope said that “the allocation of quota, cash and income shares will empower iwi to develop their own assets”. That has been one of the settlements’ central rationales, but the settlement was always going to fall short of allowing iwi to develop their own assets. The cost of purchasing a fleet and meeting its ongoing costs was never attainable. Firstly, the settlement came in stages – it took more than a decade to reach the “full and final” settlement. Secondly, much of it represented a right to profits rather than an outright cash settlement. The means never existed to immediately aquire “their own assets”. The rhetoric fit nicely with Treaty settlements as welfare rather than Treaty settlements as compensation for past wrongs.

The Treaty settlement system is at wrong as much as the iwi representatives who would rather put people before profit. The government puts its own short term political and financial interests ahead of an reaching an enduring and just settlement. Anger – most of it justifiable – should be hooked to the government as much as – and if not more so – than iwi. Both could take a lesson putting people before profits.


  1. If we Maori can not look after workers right we are no better than Talleys and co.I personally would be ashamed if we profited thru a exception to pay people less, we would be up in arms if this was done to us .

  2. The original ad was saying it all with the huge round net bulging with fish like some mass murder scene. I find it horrible, but I suppose they are getting at the fresh, wild, free animal rather than the poor battery farmed pigs and chickens as the sales pitch. But really I am more amazed at the assumption that all these wild fish can be sold by anyone. Like the oil, coal and gas, a company can arrive and take it out and make money, does it really belong to anyone or company. Like The Lord Of The Drills article, can you have world class tourism and drills and possible spills…? What about future generations? Can’t we farm and fish better, smarter and more humanely so we don’t have to use the wild fish as a sales pitch for clean healthy food. It is very sad if the fishing quota isn’t being very carefully managed. Seems like any disaster will be only acknowledged with an ‘I don’t know, not my fault,’ attitude by the gate keepers running everything in this country.

  3. This issue goes to the heart of Crown/Maori politics – how the Crown decides how Maori are represented at the table. The Crown’s been getting that one wrong since at least the Waitara purchase, and I don’t think they even tried to see whether the signatories to the 1992 deal had any sort of mandate. There’s a different system with different problems with more recent “historical” settlements – there’s more emphasis on accountability, but at the expense of speed, clarity and a lot of lawyers. There’s another tension as well – to what extent should the Crown set the rules as to how Maori can use their assets; to protect iwi, not to mention foreign fishing workers, or give them the opportunity to take their chances in the free market and join the ranks of capitalist success stories (or crushing failures). Those with the power and the access to the ears of government tend to favour the latter.

  4. Good article, and reference to Annette Sykes speech.

    The full speech – which was given as the 2010 Bruce Jesson lecture – can be found here and is well worth the read.

  5. You may recall that the capitalist model was signed in secret in a locked down parliamentary space by a hand full of individuals with no mandate in 1994. This led the way to the fiscal envelope. It’s a how to guide written by capitalists, i.e. how to minimise Māori rights and force a capitalist model on iwi.

    While a hand full of individual Māori are complicit in signing the deals, it just shows how far right wing Pākehā have infiltrated so many aspects of our lives.

    So ‘iwi’ companies buying into the exploitation game, Pākehā are responsible in these ways: writing the template for the fiscal envelope, foisting it on Māori (like the 1995 court case to oppose the Waikato deal), and then being complicit by not supporting Māori to oppose these BS deals.

  6. The rationale behind the exemption (which had an expiry date I note) was that iwi quota cannot be sold and iwi hold uneconomic packages of deepsea quota, therefore the new rules disproportionately affected them. All they were seeking was more time to put in place alternative arrangements that would comply with the new rules. Its all very well praising Talleys but this is a strategic move by them – there are next to no boats in the deepsea market apart from them so this is about them promoting rules that favour them. They are a cynical lot that family and hate the fact that iwi have quota at all.

  7. IWI are upset because their slave labour is being threatened.
    slavery was and still is a Maori labour model

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