I IMPLORE EVERYBODY HERE TO READ THIS ARTICLE! The very ugly question which arises from this situation in Australia is if this can happen in the USA? Even if our Congress continues to support our cabotage statutes, could an obviously business friendly Administration circumvent the will of the Congress and begin to issue waivers to allow foreign mariners to man vessels in the coastwise trade here? Think about newly sworn in President Trump’s first maritime actions after he assumes office…do you think he’ll be in any way shape or form behind the American seafarer? Something to think about here today…
By MarEx 2016-02-12 17:10:59
The debate over Australia’s sacked seafarers escalated on Friday with complaints made in both national and international forums. Union representatives have talked of conspiracy, bullying and harassment, but the other side of the story is one of a shipowner taking decisive action after being “extremely tolerant” in the face of prolonged illegal industrial action.
In the latest developments of the saga, the Seafarers’ Group strongly criticized the Australian government’s role in undermining Australian workers in maritime cabotage trades during a meeting at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva this week.
The Seafarers’ Group represents workers in the maritime sector in ILO forums. It includes the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) as well as Chinese seafarers’ unions.
The criticism comes after five sacked Australian crewmen refusing to leave the MV Portland were removed from their beds in the early hours of January 13, marched from the vessel and abandoned on the wharf.
They were replaced by an Indian crew, and questions still remain about the type of visas these workers were on and the customs clearance they had received, says the ITF.
Australia has cabotage laws which cover trade through domestic ports and the use of both Australian-flagged and Australian-crewed vessels.
The Australian senate voted in November to retain these laws, yet the government has twice pushed ahead with the issuing of a temporary license. In the second case, the sacked crew was forced from the CSL Melbourne by police officers early on February 5.
Parliament Hears of Conspiracy
Back in Australia, the ITF has been voicing its complaints to the Australian Parliament. A parliamentary committee heard this week that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was aware an Australian crew would be removed from the MV Portland three weeks before it happened.
It heard that the government did not question whether shipowner Alcoa had a genuine commercial reason for needing a temporary license to lower costs, because the relevant legislation doesn’t act in that way.
ITF president Paddy Crumlin said the Australian government and its agencies had deliberately not told the workers and their union that they were to be replaced.
“The Australian government has been identified as being part of an organized conspiracy of harassment and bullying including against the Indian seafarers who were denied their rights,” Crumlin said.
“This action has brought Australia into serious disrepute in the international maritime and labor movement, while the Australian government appears to have failed its duty of care as a port state operator under the Maritime Labour Convention.”
Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF seafarers’ section, said: “The Australian government’s behavior has now been raised at the heart of the ILO. That government’s apparent disregard for its seafarers, national shipping industry and even its own laws, has been exposed at this important international forum. The recent raids on the vessels Portland and Melbourne call out for censure.”
Support from India
Abdulgani Serang, general secretary-cum-treasurer of the National Union of Seafarers of India said: “India has cabotage. We have Indian-flagged ships and those are totally manned by Indian seafarers. Likewise we support seafarers working on the national-flagged ships of their countries.
“The Australian flag has to be for Australian seafarers. In this case our Australian brothers were taken off the ship and replaced by deceit. They were replaced by Indian seafarers, our members, who were deceived and not made aware of what was really going on - that they were replacing Australian seafarers on an Australian-flagged ship in an Australian port.
“My union has condemned this fraud. We are all for Australian jobs on Australian-flagged vessels. We support the Australian seafarers.”
ITF Makes Official Complaint about Third Vessel
As part of on-going action relating to temporary licenses, the ITF has now made a formal complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman over a Hong Kong registered bulk ship working on the Australian coast since December last year without a temporary license.
During an ITF inspection of Friday, the master of the Shanghai Spirit revealed he had no idea what a temporary license was. ITF inspectors boarded the ship at its berth in Port Kembla.
ITF National Coordinator Dean Summers said the ITF is also calculating a big back pay for Chinese seafarers on a sister ship in Melbourne, Asia Pearl 6, which is expected to reach US$100,000.
“What is most extraordinary, however, is that a third ugly sister of the fleet, Asia Spirit, involved in the vicious Alcoa coastal dispute, has refused access to the ITF in Portland,” Summers said. “The refusal to allow ITF inspectors on board the Portland’s replacement flag of convenience ship is an admission of guilt.”
The owners of the three ships Asia Maritime Pacific have an office in Hong Kong but are based in Shanghai.
Alcoa Says “Extremely Tolerant”
At the time of the removal of the MV Portland crew, Alcoa issued a statement saying it had taken decisive action. “Alcoa has been extremely tolerant and given the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and its members every opportunity to stop their illegal industrial action,” said Alcoa of Australia Managing Director Michael Parker.
“Instead, the MUA has held our ship hostage for two months; disrupting the lives of other crew members, disrupting operations at the Port of Portland, and threatening the Portland community with the loss of cruise ship visits.
“The MUA acted as if it was above the law, defying Fair Work Commission and Federal Court rulings; leaving the ship managers with no option but to replace the MUA crew – with the full support of Alcoa.”
The MV Portland is owned by Alcoa Portland Aluminium Pty Ltd which holds a contract with ASP Ship Management Pty Ltd (ASP) to operate the vessel. The crew of the MV Portland are employees of ASP Ship Management.
With the price of aluminium at levels not seen since the global financial crisis, the global aluminium industry, and in particular aluminium smelters, are under considerable pressure, with many running at a loss, said Alcoa in the statement.
In Australia, Alcoa’s focus is on reducing operating costs and improving productivity to help all our facilities remain internationally competitive, both now and into the future. Alcoa Inc announced on November 2, 2015, it would idle three smelters in the United States, and on Thursday January 7, 2016, that another smelter in the U.S. will be closed.
One of the many cost saving measures being taken at Portland Aluminium smelter is to sell the 27 year old MV Portland in an attempt to help protect approximately 700 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs associated with the smelter.
The savings to the smelter are not insignificant – more than $6 million per year.
The MV Portland is near the end of its operating life and is scheduled for a statutory dry-dock in mid-January 2017. The cost to keep it operational is expected to be in the $millions.
Alcoa chose to sell the vessel and replace it with a more cost efficient method of delivery of alumina from Western Australia to the Portland Aluminium smelter.
The MV Portland is crewed by ASP. There are approximately 40 people in the total crew pool, with 19 on the vessel at any one time, including seven MUA members. Alcoa has been advised that two of the MUA crew members live in Portland.
If an Australian government go against its own Parliment what is to say that a US Administration could not or would not do that same against the Congress and the American maritime unions, marching us off out our ships in the middle of the night to shiver on the pier wondering “WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED”?
I SAY WE NEED TO TAKE UP ARMS NOW IN PREPARATION TO DEFEND OUR RIGHTS RATHER THAN TO WAIT FOR THE BATTLE TO BE ENGAGED. IF WE WAIT FOR A NEW ADMINISTRATION TO MAKE THE FIRST MOVE, THEN WE WILL HAVE TO FIGHT BACK TO REGAIN THE LOST GROUND RATHER THAN TO BE READY TO HOLD ONTO THAT GROUND BEFORE AN ATTACK COMES.