Domestic Shipping an International Issue

The attacks on cabotage in Australia and worldwide are more prevalent than ever and as a result on day two of the MUA’s Quadrennial National Conference had a dedicated panel session to the attacks. 

National Secretary Paddy Crumlin opened the panel explaining that the SIU’s Secretary Treasurer and President Jim Given (President SIU) were unable to contribute in person due to the sudden death of an ITF inspector back in the States. For the benefit of the conference delegates, however, they each pre-recorded video messages prior to their departure.  

Dave Heindel emphasised that transport unions have a significant fight to make sure that cabotage has a place in Australia.  He stressed that we need to fight together to make sure there are jobs for us to work on our coastlines.

Following Heindel, Jim Given talked of the attacks on cabotage in Canada, which have been going on for many years. The SIU has lost out on the provision of approximately 4,000 jobs to local workers. They have responded by launching a lawsuit against their Federal Government in an attempt to end this practice.

Recently, the SIU has also met with CSL to talk about the treatment of workers aboard the CSL Melbourne. He explained that the fight for international cabotage needs to be about building coalitions and networks. They have voted in a new Government in Canada and they plan to hold them to account in relation to cabotage at home.  

“300,000 voices have come together in defence of cabotage and that is what you need to do too,” Given said.

“You have to get together. Stay Strong. We will be with you every step of the way. If you need anything we will be with you. Never give up the fight. Never be complacent.”


National Secretary Paddy Crumlin then took to the podium to talk about where some of the cabotage focus has been within Australia including a critical role that the Queensland branch may play with the State government around the intra-state cargo being moved from Weipa to Gladstone which is not covered by federal legislation.

“At the centre of Australian Shipping is cabotage. If you can deregulate that, you are one step away from deregulating shipping entirely,“ Crumlin said.

He described the model utilised in the United States where the union works as lobbyists based in Washington DC because the legislative battle has to be won on Capitol Hill. They work within a framework of defence, through national security. Under the Jones Act, ships need to be built in the US. The union has built a durable campaign team on both sides.

The people who want to get rid of cabotage refuse to engage with the union on the issue of defence, he said.  

“We have to run the pervasive argument and do it in Canberra. This work includes the role of the ITF and Senate sub-committees,” he said.

The first international guest to speak was Mick Cash, the new General Secretary of the RMT who described the changing nature of cabotage across the European Union, with legislation that excludes protections for non-EU seafarers who are generally paid well below the minimum wage.

Cash said the RMT was keen to see the introduction of a British or even EU Jones Act. He described a situation where there are 470,000 seafarers employed in the EU but only about 40 per cent are EU nationals. There has been a 70 per cent drop in UK seafarers since the 1980s.

He went on to condemn the treatment of the MUA members who had recently been sacked off the MV Portland and CSL Melbourne and announced that the UK and Ireland ITF affiliates $15,000 USD to the Seafarers’ Hardship fund.  


Following Cash, Johnny Hansen the President of the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union who had taken over from the now ITF Maritime Coordinator Jacqueline Smith. Hansen spoke of the many challenges across the different countries in the area of cabotage. The union is currently trying to convince their politicians that they need national cabotage in Norway.

New legislation is being proposed in the EU that will eradicate ratings in Norway, he explained that currently Norway has a government similar to the the Australian government in that they are unwilling to protect the jobs of local seafarers.

He offered his solidarity and support on behalf of the NSU and donated $50,000 Norwegian Kroner to the Seafarers’ Campaign.


Smith followed her Norwegian comrade to explain the ITF’s position on cabotage and the various hurdles experienced by unions seeking good cabotage legislation internationally.

“Those against cabotage argue that restrictions limit growth those who are pro-cabotage say that it won’t.  We believe that retaining and sustaining good employment in countries creates a fair distribution of work,” she said.

She talked about a review of cabotage legislation around the world that was conducted by the ITF in 2003, including the reasons why countries had cabotage laws. Responses included comments about the importance of developing a merchant marine force. Ironically, in 2003 the Australian response explained that cabotage protections were “to give preference to national labour and industry”.

“We have to protect national jobs in national waters. We have no other option than to fight back,” she said.

“For this reason”, she said, “we established the International Cabotage Task-force.”

National MUA Secretary Paddy Crumlin then summed up the sentiments of the panel in his closing remarks:

 “Our narrative is a good narrative. We need jobs for our kids. We in the ITF are prepared to go into battle for Australian Seafarers,” Crumlin said.


Before the delegates headed out to a break, Steve Todd from the RMT presented a gift of a stained glass window entwining the logos of the MUA and the RMT to Comrade Crumlin and thanked the MUA for its friendship over the years.