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The Eastern and Barry Saunders, Light House Benefit Concert

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Tour Information
In the almost decade long tradition of near Christmas shows and fundraisers, “National Treasures” (RNZ) The Eastern will perform on Dec. 22nd at their favourite local venue Blue Smoke. They will be joined by NZ country Icon, Warratah and gentleman of the road Barry Saunders.

The Eastern are known nationwide and internationally as a hard driving, hard working, hard hoping, huge hearted, country/folk/string/rock n roll powerhouse. They were described by ‘No Depression’ as “one of the best modern roots acts from any country”.

Barry Saunders both solo and with The Warratahs has carved in stone his name in New Zealand music history. Responsible for such classics as ‘Hands of My Heart” and “Maureen”, Barry just celebrated his 30th year on the road with The Warratahs performing sold out shows nationwide on the neverending ‘Drivin’ Wheel Tour’.

Both acts will offer their performance in a bucket rattling endeavor to raise money for the chronically underfunded Lyttelton Seafarers Centre.

read on to get the full story..


Benji Sator is a seafarer from the Philippines. He arrives in Lyttelton every 6 weeks on a container ship. The first thing Benji wants to do when he arrives in port is call his wife Maria. He knows she and the kids will be at home at dinnertime, about 9pm NZ time. So, upon arrival, if our Centre is not open, he will head up to the library and stand in freezing wind and tell his wife he is fine and his daughter that he loves her, as his hands turn blue from the cold.

While in port, Benji likes to stock up on few personal items. There is no bank in Lyttelton, but local businesses will happily exchange the US dollars he is paid for NZ dollars at a rate of US$1 for every NZ$1. Everyone knows there is usually at least 30-35% difference in the exchange rate in favour of the NZ dollar. For every US$100 he breaks, Beni is $40 out of pocket on the exchange rate alone. That is $40 dollars loss for a man who earns in a month what some CEOs of port companies earn in an hour. Last month, he wanted to go to the city, so called a taxi. The taxi driver charged him US$100 for a lift into town That is 10% of what Benji earns in a month. A fare to town should cost about NZ$45 dollars.

The Lyttelton Seafarers Centre is a place set up for Benji and his fellow workers. To provide assistance, amenities, care, support and most importantly a brief homelike respite.

While it still only opens for three hours each evening, in the 3 years since, we have had over 10,000 visits from seafarers docking in Lyttelton. Five nights a week, a volunteer opens the Centre, switches on the heat pump, and gives an inquiring seafarer our password so they can access our free wi-fi. During those hours, they don’t need to stand out in the dark and freezing cold anymore. The most common sound you hear in the Centre these nights is not the voices of the seamen, but the voices of their wives and children talking from overseas and laughing and chatting on Skype to a husband, a parent, a sibling.

The volunteers who work at the centre recognise seafarers, the poorly paid and often exploited international workforce who leave home and families to transport goods by ship to our shores. These are a group of people we often ignore, sometimes don’t even see. A seafarer can be endangered from shipwreck, piracy, dangerous work, industrial accidents and exploitation by employment agents, officers and shipping companies. Safety and fair wages are worldwide issues.

International Ports are a highly profitable industry. In 2017, NZ ports made a total post-tax profit of $260 million, paying millions of dollars in dividends to the City Councils that own them. Possibly this is because our ports are well managed? But more probably, it is because shipping companies are charged huge fees to tie up at NZ wharves, fees they can afford to pay, because they use cheap labour - from the Philippines, India, China, South Korea and other countries to crew their ships.

Every year, thousands of poorly paid seafarers come to our shores on merchant ships to bring goods and much needed materials that help make the infra-structure of New Zealand better for all of us. Yet we provide them little hospitality when they disembark from their boats. This is unlike passengers who come on cruise ships and spend millions of dollars in our shops. They get the red carpet laid out before them, for their comfort and wellbeing. We have a different standard for the workers, the seafarers. Most ports have virtually nothing to offer by way of hospitality. A seafarers’ centre, run on a volunteer basis with huge time and financial constraints, may or may not be located in port. If one is, maybe it is open for only a few hours, while a vessel could be in port for up to a week.

New Zealand is a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention, an International Labour Organisation (ILO) Treaty signed in 2006. It covers almost every aspect of seafarer life and work on board ship, including the provision of shore-based welfare facilities for seafarers when in port. The Convention came into force in New Zealand in March 2017. Among many other provisions, the Convention recommends that members should take measures to ensure that ‘adequate welfare facilities and services are provided for seafarers in designated ports of call.’ However, it makes no mandatory designation as to who should fund such services, instead recommending they come ‘from grants from public funds, or levies or other special dues from shipping.’

At this point, none of this is happening in NZ. Instead, voluntary groupings like the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) and the Mission to Seafarers (MtS) are having sausage sizzles, dance nights and raffles to raise funding to try and keep centres open for seafarers when they call. Secondary students volunteer their evenings to help with money transfers, purchases of food items, organise internet access for seafarers and strum the occasional guitar. Let’s be clear. It is long past time for City Councils, who own the ports and make millions of dollars from them annually, to step up and put some solid regular finance towards providing seafarers safe, hospitable and just conditions on shore. After all, port companies made a total post-tax profit of $260 million in 2017. Also, there is absolutely no reason why a small levy (eg $50 – 100) shouldn’t be charged from every ship that comes into port to help towards funding such a resource. This dollar amount collected would be peanuts compared to the more than $20 000 ship owners can pay to tie up dockside for a 24-hour stay.

This is an issue primarily about the decent treatment of seafarers. It’s a human rights issue. A matter of justice - and hospitality.

In the meantime it's up to us to help where we can, 'Light House' is one small show with its shoulder to the wheel we ask you to join us in the pushing!

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