Canberra Jobs Rally Shines Light on Plight of Seafaring Jobs

The Maritime Union of Australia rallied outside Parliament House in Canberra today to protest the Turnbull Government decision to grant temporary licences to replace the vessels, the MV Portland and CSL Melbourne.

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Crew members from the MV Portland held meetings with various MPs and Senators over the past few days to tell their story.

Last month, five crew members aboard the Alcoa-owned vessel were woken by up to 30 security guards at 1am and given 10 minutes to leave the vessel with as many possessions as they could grab in that time.

The MV Portland had been carrying alumina from Alcoa’s Kwinana plant to its smelter in Portland for more than 27 years.

The crew met with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten this morning, following meetings with a number of Labor MPS and Senators including senior frontbenchers Anthony Albanese and Brendon O’Connor.

They have also met with cross bench Senators John Madigan, Jacqui Lambie, Ricky Muir, Glenn Lazarus, Nick Xenophon as well as Greens Janet Rice and Adam Bandt.

ALP Transport spokesman Anthony Albanese addressed the rally, as did Greens Senator Janet Rice, Kennedy MP Bob Katter, ACTU President Ged Kearney, ITF Australia Coordinator Dean Summers and MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray.

Several MPs and Senators attended the rally, including the ALP’s Penny Wong, Mark Butler, Terri Butler, Pat Conroy, Sharon Claydon, Anne Urquart, Jill Hall and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.

Mr Albanese said: "Malcolm Turnbull should today meet Australian shipping workers protesting outside Parliament to explain why he has cleared the way for them to be sacked and replaced by foreign crews earning Third World wages.

"In recent months the Government has issued the owners of the MV Portland and the CSL Melbourne with permits allowing them to order their Australian crews to sail the vessels to Singapore, where they will be sacked and replaced by foreign workers.

"This attempt to undermine Australian shipping comes despite November’s Senate rejection of Mr Turnbull’s WorkChoices on Water legislation, which would have allowed foreign-flagged vessels paying foreign wage rates to undercut Australian shipping companies, which are required to pay Australian level wages.

"Undeterred by the will of the Parliament, Mr Turnbull is now abusing a provision of existing law that allows for the issuance of permits for temporary use of foreign crews where no Australian crews are available.

"It is extraordinary that any Australian Government would actually facilitate Australians being sacked because they are paid Australian wage rates and it is unacceptable that an Australian Government would undermine the national interest by deliberately trying to undermine Australian industry.”

Mr Bray said the fact an Australian crew was removed at 1am and replaced by a foreign crew raises a number of serious questions:

· What visas did the replacement crew have and who authorised them?
· Who in customs and immigration processed their passports and who approved that decision?
· Were an AMSA regulations breached?
· Was the harbor master informed and what was the role of the Port Authority?
· Who inside Government was aware of this?

"As the union representing these workers, we’re seeking answers,” he said.

"We’ll explore every avenue to get to the bottom of this grubby episode because we suspect some of those in the Ministerial Wing knew what was coming and authorised it to happen.”

The seafarers also fronted a Senate Inquiry into Flag-of-Convenience shipping.

Mr Summers, who has been a key witness during the Senate inquiry once again spoke of the high cost of cheap shipping.

Summers provided the reports into Alcoa’s replacement ships, which have been labelled Confidential as there is an ongoing AFP investigation.

“There is absolutely no reason to head down the path of FOC shipping,” he said.

MV Portland crew member Zac Kinzett said getting rid of domestic shipping company is not in the national interest.

"The work hasn’t dried up. Alcoa intends to continue this trade on foreign-flagged ships with a foreign crew being paid as little as $2-an-hour, supported by the Turnbull Government which wants to open up the Australian coast to cheap, nasty, risky shipping,” he said.

"The Turnbull Government needs to be reminded that Australian jobs are important – me and my fellow workers have families, kids, mortgages and bills to pay.

"Our dispute is about the right for Australians to work in their own country and not be replaced by foreign-crewed vessels paying as little as $2 an hour.

"Ultimately, we are just Australian workers in an Australian industry … I am proud to be Australian but what happened to the crew of the MV Portland and now the CSL Melbourne is un-Australian.

"Australians have been removed from their rightful place of work, and their removal has been sanctioned and approved by this Government."

Crew member Warren Hopkins said workers had to complete 16 weeks at the Australian Maritime College and 36 weeks of sea time in order to receive the Integrated Ratings ticket.

This training generally takes around two years to complete.

Mr Hopkins said Australian seafarers are some of the best in the world and shouldn’t be expected to compete with exploited foreign crews of FOC vessels.

"There’s no way we can compete with $2/hr and then go home and pay the electricity bill,” Mr Hopkins said.

He added that Alcoa was the recipient of a subsidy from the Victorian State Government that runs into tens of millions of dollars a year. It might even be $100 million but no-one knows as the numbers aren’t made public.

Michael Pawson, the chief cook, came to the table at the end of the meeting.

"After listening to everything that’s just come out I find it very annoying that we were the ones who were pulled out of our beds at 1am,” he said.

"And we’re the criminals? All we wanted was our jobs.”

Brett Kolpin, a Portland local, said he was told by his wife from the local paper that it was the last voyage of the MV Portland.

“You’ll never see a vessel better looked after than the Portland,” he said.

Dale Eaton, whose wife will soon give birth to their second child.

"If this is how it’s going to be run, who wants to be a part of that,” he said.

"I’ve been at sea for 10 years. I was looking forward to a life at sea and now I feel like there’s no career; nothing,” he said.

Liam Conaghan said it was going to be very difficult to find another job.