ILO group slams Australia for undermining cabotage

The Seafarers’ Group at the International Labour Organization (ILO) has strongly criticised the Conservative Australian Government ‘s role in undermining Australian workers in maritime cabotage trades during a meeting in Geneva this week.

The Seafarers’ Group represents workers in the maritime sector in ILO forums. It includes the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) as well as Chinese seafarers’ unions.

The criticism comes after five Australian crew onboard the MV Portland were in the early hours of January 13 removed from their beds, marched from the vessel and abandoned on the wharf.

They were replaced by an exploited Indian crew and questions still remain about the type of visas these workers were on and the Customs clearance they had received.

The Australian Parliament heard last week that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was aware an Australian crew would be removed from the cargo ship 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 licence to lower costs, because the relevant legislation doesn’t act in that way.

ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) 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 organised conspiracy of harassment and bullying including against the Indian seafarers who were denied their rights,” Mr Crumlin said.

“The ITF is now closely assessing whether it will make a formal complaint to the ILO over possible breaches to the Maritime Labour Convention.

“This action has brought Australia into serious disrepute in the international maritime and labour movement while the Australian government appears to have failed its duty of care as a port state operator under the MLC.”

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 licence, with crew forced from the CSL Melbourne by up to 70 police officers last Friday.

Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF seafarers’ section, added: “The Australian government’s behaviour 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.”

ITF general secretary Steve Cotton commented: “The heavy-handed, staged raids on these two ships revealed that Australia is failing to abide by the very cabotage laws intended to protect its marine industry. This justified criticism at the ILO reflects the apparent almost suicidal determination by the Australian government to destroy the national shipping capability that is vital for the country’s economy, jobs and wellbeing.”

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.”   

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