Fishing crew rights and obligations

Employers recruiting overseas workers to work as crew on fishing vessels in New Zealand waters have certain responsibilities and obligations they must meet.


All employers must:

  • only employ experienced crew
  • only recommend experienced crew to other employers
  • carry out referee checks being careful to make sure that crew have the right experience to do the work and are unlikely to be a desertion risk, ie leave the vessel without intending to return.

Manning agents

Employers can use manning agents to recruit crew as long as they comply with the following rules:

  • the manning agent is an acceptable manning agent
  • they carefully monitor the performance of manning agents they deal with
  • they agree to share information about the manning agents they use with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) if asked to.


Every foreign crew member employed on a fishing vessel must be sponsored by their New Zealand employer.

If an employer breaches their sponsorship obligations, we won’t approve a Request for Approval in Principle to Recruit Foreign Crew of Fishing Vessels again.

If the crew fly into New Zealand

If crew are flying into New Zealand, and not arriving on the vessel they’ll be working on, their New Zealand employer must arrange a representative:

  • to meet the crew after they have gone through customs
  • to take the crew to their vessel, to their next flight or their accommodation.

Explaining crew rights and obligations

The New Zealand employer must:

  • explain to crew members before their first voyage to New Zealand, their rights and obligations under New Zealand immigration and employment law
  • provide each crew member with a copy of the ‘Important information for Foreign Fishing Crews working in New Zealand Waters’ guide in their own language.

Explaining crew rights and obligations


Managing desertion risks

Employers must have a plan to manage desertion risks when the vessel is in port, which can include:

  • making sure all foreign crew can be identified by the company managing port security
  • using security systems to monitor who’s coming and going from the vessel
  • asking security watchmen to record the number plates of any unknown vehicles seen around the vessel
  • having policies and practices that allow crew and employers to stay in touch when on shore leave.

Crew are allowed to have shore leave. Employers should not prevent crew from having shore leave when making a plan to manage desertion risks.

Letting us know if there are any problems

Employers have to let us know as soon as possible if they have any information that may help us to:

  • prevent a crew member from deserting
  • catch a crew member who has deserted
  • catch any person who encouraged or helped crew members to desert, or otherwise breach the conditions of their visa.

What to do if crew desert ship

If a New Zealand employer knows a crew member has deserted ship, they must:

  • let us know as soon as possible and within 48 hours by completing a ‘Formal Notification of Crew Deserter’ form
  • send us the crew member’s passport and Seaman’s book, if they have them – the address is on the form.

Formal Notification of Crew Deserter (INZ 1212) PDF 377KB

What to do if crew are missing

If a New Zealand employer notices a crew member is missing, they must let us know as soon as possible and:

  • within 24 hours of the time they notice the crew member is missing
  • within 48 hours if the vessel has already left port.

Deserters and missing crew

After we’ve been notified that a crew member has deserted or is missing:

  • we’ll consider that crew member has breached the conditions of their visa
  • we may take action against the individual crew member
  • we may take action against the employer if they have nor meet their responsibilities and obligations
  • we’ll add the name of the crew member and his or her employer to our desertion records.

Desertion records

New Zealand employers whose names have been added to our desertion records can apply to have the record removed if all of the following apply:

  • they apply in writing
  • the foreign crew member returns to their vessel, leaves New Zealand, or contacts Immigration New Zealand, their employer before they’re served with a deportation liability notice
  • the employer can show us there are good reasons the crew member shouldn’t be considered a deserter.

When we make a decision about whether we’ll accept a request to remove a desertion record, we’ll write to the employer with our decision. If we decide not to accept the request, we’ll include the reasons for our decision.

Managing crew complaints

Investigating complaints

Employers must fully:

  • investigate any complaints or concerns crew may have
  • co-operate with MBIE, if it decides to investigate a complaint.

Employers must explain to crew who have a complaint or concern that they can ask:

  • the New Zealand Fishing Industry Guild (NZFIG) for advice, or to represent them
  • another employee representative for advice, or to represent them, as long as that representative is not their manning agent.

Notifying complaints

Employers must notify both MBIE and NZFIG if there are any serious complaints, allegations or investigations about:

  • employment conditions
  • non-compliance with Immigration Instructions for Foreign Crew of Fishing Vessels.

For more about Immigration Instructions for Foreign Crew of Fishing Vessels, visit:

WJ Foreign crew of fishing vessels

If MBIE and NZFIG or any other employee representative learns about a complaint, allegation or investigation, it will notify the employer and explain that the employer has the right to carry out their own investigation.

Employment records

Employers must keep accurate, up-to-date records for each individual crew member:

  • the hours worked
  • any deductions from their pay
  • the amount paid (after any deductions) and how and when payment was made
  • if paid in foreign currency, the exchange rate used.

Employers have to supply this information to all crew (or their authorised representative) both when:

  • they pay wages in cash – they must provide information covering the time the payment is for
  • crew ask for it – they can do this at any time.


Providing information

New Zealand employers must provide employment records to MBIE or any auditors it engages at the start of any audit. The records must be translated into English by an independent translator.

MBIE aims to give 4 weeks’ notice before any scheduled audit. But if an audit or investigation is urgent, employers may have less time than this to provide the information or records. Employers must provide all information or records within the timeframes MBIE or its auditors provides with the request.

If employers don’t provide the records or information in time, they may fail the audit. This can affect the status of current and future Approvals in Principle to Recruit Foreign Crew of Fishing Vessels.

Crew working conditions

Working and living conditions on the vessel

Employers must make sure that working and living conditions for crew on board vessels:

  • meet flag state safety standards, including those set out in the 'Health and Safety at Work Act 2015'
  • any safety, marine protection, crew living and hygiene standards set by the Director of Maritime New Zealand.
  • Minimum standards include (but are not limited to) making sure:
  • all crew have access to enough fresh cold and hot water
  • all crew have adequate food (quantity and type)
  • crew accommodation is clean and dry
  • all crew have their own bed and suitable bedding
  • there are enough washing facilities and toilets for the number of crew on board
  • the vessel carries adequate medical stores
  • at least one crew member is a qualified ‘ship’s medic’
  • crew are provided with suitable protective clothing and equipment for them to carry out their duties
  • vessel safety and emergency drills are carried out regularly.

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

Crew welfare

The New Zealand employer must make sure crew have access to the following services:

  • the manning agent, if this applies
  • medical and dental treatment
  • help with banking services, if requested
  • translation services, if requested
  • mail services
  • NZ government agencies, like MBIE, Police, Customs, Ministry for Primary Industries, if requested.

Employment agreements

Employers must make sure crew employment agreements include minimum crew working conditions and comply with New Zealand employment law.

Employers must make sure crew employment agreements include minimum crew working conditions comply with New Zealand employment law.

Crew working conditions

Standard principles for crew employment agreements

Minimum payments

Employers must pay foreign crew:

  • at least the New Zealand minimum statutory hourly wage plus NZD $5.00 per hour
  • for all the hours crew work
  • for at least 42 hours per week on average over the course of their employment.

For more information about the current New Zealand minimum statutory hourly wage, visit:

The minimum wage


Employers may only deduct amounts from crew wages for:

  • food (calculated at a maximum of 10% of hours worked multiplied by the minimum wage)
  • airfares to and from New Zealand
  • Immigration New Zealand work visa application fees.

Deductions must be based on actual and reasonable confirmed costs.

Employers can’t make deductions that bring the hourly rate below the New Zealand minimum statutory wage for all hours worked.

If crew want to pay the costs of personal items like cigarettes, phone cards and non-protective clothing from their wages, these are considered wage advances and not deductions.

Payment frequency

Employers must pay crew regularly, either monthly or at every port call. Payment frequency must be set out in crew employment agreements.

If crew have only been paid the minimum hourly wage pay plus $5.00 per hour, employers must pay them for any hours they worked above the 42 hours a week at least 24 hours before leaving New Zealand.

Paying wages

Employers must provide each crew member with a New Zealand bank account and pay wages into that account, unless the crew member decides they want to be paid in cash.

No employer, manning agent, crew representative, or any other person associated with them, may have access to, or Power of Attorney over, any crew member’s New Zealand bank account.

Crew can only be paid in cash, if they notify their employer in writing in their own language.

If crew choose to be paid in cash, employers must:

  • pay them in New Zealand
  • if they pay in foreign currency, record the exchange rate, and provide it to crew at the time they’re paid
  • provide a final payslip at least 24 hours before leaving New Zealand so crew have the opportunity to contact and meet with an authorised representative before they go.

Flying out of New Zealand

If crew will be flying out of New Zealand and not leaving with the fishing vessel, the employer must:

  • help crew get to the airport
  • give crew at least 24 hours’ notice, so that crew have the opportunity to contact and meet with an authorised representative before they go.