Establishment of the Maritime Jobs Legal Fighting Fund

Statement from National Secretary Paddy Crumlin to all MUA members.

As you would know, our Union is facing continuing and escalating attacks on a wide range of fronts. The Abbott Government is using its wide legal powers and significant resources to work with some shipping companies, stevedores and other employers to erode conditions of and protections to employment in the industry including attacks on safety on the job and the circumventing of Australian maritime workers in shipping and the offshore.

We are increasingly required to go to Court to defend our collective interests and the individual targeting of members including delegates and activists. Legal costs are rapidly escalating. Many of the cases we are involved in require the use of barristers and senior counsel and in some cases substantial damages have been awarded against us.

For instance we are about to embark upon a landmark legal battle against the Federal Government in an effort to obtain a declaration from the Federal Court that Government Determination IMMI14/077 (that permits offshore labour working in the oil and gas industry in particular to no longer require an Australian visa) is invalid and contrary to law.

Were the Determination allowed to stand, it would create a situation whereby there would be a significant increase in the capacity of employers to hire seafarers from abroad and then put them to work working in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone up to 200 Nautical Miles from shore, without the need for visas or the protection of Australian employment standards. The litigation is expected to be heard in one or a combination of the Federal Court, the Full Federal Court and the High Court of Australia.

We are also preparing or are fully engaged in legal battles in a number of key areas including:

  • Significant Restrictions on Right of Entry Permits, with MUA Officials being denied permits.
  • Continued delay by employers in the adoption of the life saving National Stevedoring Code of Practice and associated state and federal regulation.
  • Threats to existing Cabotage arrangements protecting seafarers caused by various and ongoing Government reviews.
  • Attacks to the Stevedoring Award with employer claims to increase wharfies hours of work and reduce penalty rates and other employment entitlements awarded to the stevedoring workers over decades of bargaining. 

Our Union is also dealing with anti-worker forces suing the union over the protection of safety and workplace rights for towage workers in Port Hedland and Henderson and there have been and continue to be a number of cases against the union and our members in stevedoring workplaces in NSW, Victoria and WA.

In response to these wide ranging attacks, the National Executive of the Union is proposing to National Council that a fighting fund to be known as the Maritime Jobs Legal Fighting Fund be established for the purpose of contesting strategic litigation when required in the event that a judgment from the Court or law from the Parliament is contrary to the labour, human and civil rights and interests of the MUA, its officers and its members.

The operation of the fund would be consistent with the MUA’s obligations under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act, and the MUA rules. It is intended that the Maritime Jobs Legal Fighting Fund will be financed by a modest increase in Membership dues ($104 per year or $4 per fortnight or $2 per week) effective 1 September 2014.

The contributions will be recognised by a financiality sticker which will include reference to the Maritime Jobs Legal Fighting Fund. You will receive this new financiality sticker in October. Crews and maritime workplaces are encouraged to also identify the Fighting Fund as a priority in the disbursement of their normal workplace donations and industrial and political funding.

Looking ahead, the Abbott Government intends to draw Maritime workers into the scope of the internationally notorious anti union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) while the Government’s Royal Commission into Trade Unions has already demonstrated the great selectivity of its purpose in excluding any corrupt practices or activities of employers in its scope of investigation.

Finally, it has been reported at monthly meetings and workplaces during the month of July and early August (and also demonstrated by a number of sizeable donations from workplaces and members) that workplaces and members may still wish to make voluntary contributions to the fund and these contributions can be made by individuals or workplaces/rolling funds via the mechanism described below:

Name of Account: Maritime Jobs Legal Fighting Fund

BSB Number: 802-884

Account Number: 56681s1 

I trust you will appreciate the decision to increase Union dues to invest in the Maritime Jobs Legal Fighting Fund is both a necessary and appropriate step in our fight to defend and improve the employment terms and conditions for you and for all other Members of our great Union. 

In Unity

Paddy Crumlin

MUA National Secretary