MUA calls for inquiry into shippers' concerted behaviour.
The Maritime Union of Australia expressed disgust today at a shipping campaign that is insisting that Australia coastal shipping can only be conducted on third world wage levels.
"I think most Australians would think it's reasonable that when ships are taking cargo from one Australian port to another on our coastal highways that all crew on board is paid a reasonable minimum wage. We would be appalled if workers on work visas were driving trucks on our roads or employed somewhere else in our workforce for a pittance", said Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.
"What they are looking to reject is the Fair Work Act which recognizes that ships on our coastal trade are Australian workplaces. From 1 January this year foreign seafarers on the coastal routes have to be paid the federal minimum wage outcome under the Fair Work Act. Already in most cases they are being paid an International Transport Workers' Federation rate so it is not a huge impost to shippers", said Mr Crumlin.
"Yet the shipping companies are orchestrating a campaign with some of them arguing they will have to leave the coastal trades. Any cost increases or withdrawals from shipping service at this stage must be considered a purely political exercise - an element of price gouging. Shipping Australia is no doubt looking to find traction before the looming federal election.
"From January next year crews international permit vessels will be required to provide at least the minimum entitlements provided in Part B of the modernised Seagoing Award .It will be an improvement on the minimum wage but foreign crew will still be paid well shy of the rate of Australian seafarers who are paid under enterprise bargaining agreements.
"Reasonable freight cost adjustments to recognise shippers obligations under the FW Act are justified. Higher freight rates also make it more attractive for a domestic shipping operator to consider investing in a licensed ship to participate in the domestic trade", Mr Crumlin said.
"The MUA believes there are good grounds for the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the collective behaviour of international shipping lines that have recently announced they intend to exit the coastal trades. There is also a good argument for Shipping Australia to be joined in that investigation to assess if it has also breached the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) formerly the Trade Practices Act by encouraging its member companies to act in a concerted manner", he said.
"The international liner shipping industry is characterised by a range of market co-operative arrangements through liner conferences, permitted in Australia through the provisions of the CCA. Collective withdrawal of service offerings by international liner shipping companies would seem to the MUA to constitute an abuse of the privilege granted by the CCA. Where shipping companies are threatening to boycott a market, there are strong arguments that their special status is being abused.
"At a time when the Federal Government is finalising a package to revitalise Australian shipping - through fiscal and other incentives and reforms - the Fair Work Act and labour reforms are an essential part of the mix. The reforms are designed to secure the long term sustainability and viability of Australia's coastal shipping services, create employment and fill badly needed skills gaps in our domestic shipping and port industry", Mr Crumlin said.