In a flagrant disregard for Australia’s Coastal Shipping laws, oil major Caltex will dump its Australian workforce from the tanker the Alexander Spirit in favour of cheap foreign seafarers, some of which are paid as little as $2 an hour.
Yesterday the crew aboard the vessel - currently docked in Devonport, Tasmania - was told that its upcoming journey to Singapore would be its last and that the company refused to guarantee that it will not return to domestic shipping routes with a full foreign crew.
Caltex’s move comes despite the fact that Cabotage, which dictates Australian crews must be utilised on domestic routes, is still in force. The Abbott Government, through Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, has tabled legislation, which, if successful, will dismantle the Coastal Shipping Act to allow foreign seafarers on domestic trade routes.
Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said that Caltex, obviously buoyed by the Abbott Government’s intention to unravel Cabotage, had treated its workers with contempt.
“Up until yesterday the employer had said the ship was to sail to Singapore to clean its hull, now we’re finding out the company’s intention all along was to clean out the crew,” Mr Bray said.
“I have seen a lot of companies sack their Australian crews in recent times but never have I seen it done with such disregard for the workers as what I witnessed yesterday.”
The Alexander Spirit is the latest in a series of tankers to depart the coast in the past year, which will mean the only Australian-crewed oil tanker on Australian routes will be the BP-owned British Fidelity, limiting the country’s capacity for fuel security.
Last week a report from the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee on Australia's transport energy resilience and sustainability found that Australia’s fuel security measures were not adequate and recommended the following:
Recommendation 3. 6.17 The committee recommends that the Australian Government develop and publish a comprehensive Transport Energy Plan directed to achieving a secure, affordable and sustainable transport energy supply. The plan should be developed following a public consultation process. Where appropriate, the plan should set targets for the secure supply of Australia's transport energy.
“Caltex obviously think that Mr Truss has given them the green light to go ahead and treat Australian workers in this undignified manner,” he said.
“Well it’s extremely premature, the Abbott Government has faced a lot of hurdles in pushing its agenda and legislation, and if they think the union will allow the Government to stop Australians working on their own coast, then they’re more incompetent than I thought.”
The crew of the Alexander Spirit has refused to sail the vessel.
The global organisation responsible for looking after the world’s transport workers, the International Transport Workers’ Fedetation also weighed into the debate with their Maritime Coordinator Jacqueline Smith weighing into the debate.
"The ITF urges Caltex to reconsider its decision and to support Australian seafarers in the carriage of domestic cargos,” Ms Smith said.
“Your country's fuel and national security is at risk as well as local jobs.”