Professional Skipper – April 2001 issue          back to articles menu

“The Seafood Industry Council - from compulsion to oblivion?”
The curse of the Unions since their formation in the early 1900’s was the ‘scab’ worker, who elected not to join the Union, yet received the same benefits negotiated by that Union. Compulsory Unionism fixed that problem yet created another - an infringement of the individual’s right to choose. So the Seafood Industry Council faces the same dilemma – going from compulsory levies to voluntary membership. Can it survive after the protection of Statute is removed?


If you want to set up in business in the Seafood industry today, you have no choice but to pay a Levy to the Seafood Industry Council. It is compulsory, and has been for a long time through the Fishing Industry Board Levies & Commodities Act. In return for your Levy, the Council does certain things and provides certain benefits to those in the industry. Whether you perceive you are getting a benefit (or not) is another issue and not the focus of this article – but could be for a future article! I want to assume for the moment (and for this discussion) that the Council does provide tangible benefits.

Let’s look at the Maritime Transport Association for a minute. It is not protected by any Statute of compulsion, as is the Seafood Industry Council. Membership of MTA is voluntary, and in fact only about a third of the total eligible group actually contribute to it. Once again, for the purposes of this article, let’s assume the MTA does provide tangible benefits. It would appear then that two-thirds of the people who receive benefits engineered by MTA’s efforts are not members, which raises an ethical and moral issue, not least to say a funding issue. Now let’s go back to the Union example, because I want to use it as a comparative model – we can learn (and perhaps draw some conclusions) from their experiences. In April 1991, the Employment Contracts Act effectively ended the guaranteed existence of Unions. Over the last 10 years, many Unions have simply disappeared. Others have merged and become stronger because of it. What made those other Unions disappear?

Opinion only, but maybe they just weren’t providing benefits that existing or potential members saw as valuable. Take away the ‘glue’ of Compulsion and the thing flies to pieces. So the Unions who survived (opinion again) obviously created a new kind of ‘glue’ – clear and obvious benefits that were perceived by present and future members as being more beneficial than the money it cost to join.

Let me draw your thoughts to the link between ‘compulsion’ and ‘standard of service’. If you provide a service to the public that is not compulsory, then you must compete with others to provide a high standard of service balanced against the cost to the public of getting that service. Therefore you will always need to keep a focus on providing what the public want because if you fail, to coin a baseball phrase, “yer outta there”. You will not survive. However, if we then make your service compulsory, and make you the only provider, there is no actual force requiring you to make sure your service is relevant to the public need, and of a high standard. Compulsion may fix your membership problem, but carries a ‘dark side’; the death-knell of quality service. Up until the mid-80’s, we only had one National airline. I still remember standing at the bottom of a boarding ladder in the pouring rain and a howling Wellington northerly, because we had no air-bridges and some prat already inside the aircraft couldn’t get his over-size bag to fit in the overhead locker and was blocking the aisle. Then came competition in the form of Ansett, and Lo! Suddenly air-bridges arrived. We still get the prats, but at least you’re dry and warm while you wait. Market Force and Customer Choice are harsh teachers - this lesson the Unions have learned over ten years. (Footnote: I had reason to ring a particular Union over a month ago for one of my clients, left an urgent message and after a week of nil response I sorted the matter out myself – has semi-compulsion caused a slip already?). But enough of Unions, lest I be guilty of Labouring the point, I’m sure you agree that compulsion and quality service make an uneasy Alliance…

On to MTA. The MTA exists because those in the industry need some method of lobbying the political system (among other benefits). Obviously one-third of those in the industry feel they receive a benefit. What of the other two-thirds? Either they do not feel MTA does provide a benefit, or they are ‘freeloaders’ – receiving benefits yet letting others carry the financial burden. The first group are accessible – all MTA has to do is to prove that the benefits exist, that they are relevant to the potential new member, and that the benefits outweigh the financial contribution. A simple sales/marketing job. The second group is harder to address, since it deals with the individual’s sense of ethics, morals and values – a murky mixture.

On to the Seafood Industry Council. If you’ve read this far you’ll know where I’m going with this. Whether membership should be compulsory or not is irrelevant – it’s not going to be. The question then is – how will it survive?

I am a member of the Human Resources Institute of NZ, which costs me around $250 per year, the NZ Association of Training & Development ($200 per year) and NZ Institute of Management ($225 per year). All voluntary, none are a requirement of my profession. $675 per year across those three alone, and they are personal bills. Obviously, I’m not going to voluntarily pay that sort of money unless I perceive clear benefits from that expenditure – only then can you add any emotional motivation of ‘supporting my profession’.  ‘Mr Nice Guy’ only goes so far.

In a voluntary membership situation, the Seafood Industry Council will have to make sure it provides clear, communicable benefits that outweigh the cost of membership, and will have to be able to sell those benefits in a clear, convincing manner. If it cannot, then it will simply not survive, and to be blunt, neither should it. None of us have a guaranteed existence, and people don’t often buy something they don’t want - except when forced by Law or sucked in by deceit – neither being good for long-term relationships…

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.                                                                                                                       back to articles menu