The Maritime Union says its fears about short-term casual labour being introduced into New Zealand have been confirmed.

The introduction of more cheap foreign labour into the New Zealand fishing industry is the death knell for fishing employment, union general secretary Trevor Hanson said in a statement.

Revelations that New Zealand crews were being made redundant, then being replaced by cheaper foreign crews, blew the argument of labour shortages out of the water, he said.

Independent Fisheries was given permission last week by Associate Immigration Minister Damian O'Connor to import twenty Indonesian workers to replace a New Zealand crew made redundant in October 2004 amid claims re-employed local workers were having to accept major pay cuts.

Learning of the redundancies, Mr O'Connor undertook a review but was satisfied the decision made had been the correct one, saying he was confident it was not a case of replacing New Zealand workers with foreigners.

Mr Hanson said the Government was sending the message that laying off your staff and flying in short-term casual labour from overseas that were paid half the wages was now OK.

"We believe that this is a sign of the way things will be under the new free trade agreements, and if the New Zealand economy becomes dependant on cheap labour, then cheap labour will remain when the inevitable economic downturn arrives."

The fishing industry should hang its head in shame for the damage it had caused to fish stocks through over-fishing, which was being used as an excuse for attacking wages and conditions, he said.

"Overfishing has wrecked their profits and now they are trying to fix the problem by slashing workers' wages -- it is a disgraceful indictment of the industry."

Protecting remaining stocks would have a bad effect on industry workers, but failure to do so would have even more drastic effects for future generations of New Zealanders, Mr Hanson said.

- NZPA