The sacked seafarers of the MV Portland were today joined by supporters from a range of backgrounds, most notably members of the Australian Worker's Union and the Australian Manufacturing Worker's Union from the Port Kemble steelworks to celebrate Iron Boat Day at the newly erected Jobs Embassy outside of Parliament House.
Iron Boat Day commemorates the day in 1914 when BHP contracted shipping company Scott Feels & Co to move its cargo around the Australian coast. This would trigger the beginning of Australia’s biggest merchant shipping fleet – the Iron Boats.
As a result of a depressed steelmaking and general manufacturing industry the Iron Boat fleet has disappeared and along with it many jobs, which were once considered a long-term and stable career.
The Maritime Union of Australia set up a Jobs Embassy outside of Parliament House to get the attention of the Turnbull Government, which has so far been silent on declining employment opportunities. The campaign was set up as a direct response to the MV Portland crew being marched off their vessel in the middle of the night by hired security.
Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O'Connor spoke at the Embassy in calling on the Turnbull Government to stand up for Australian workers and to come clean on their role in the MV Portland action.
He was followed by South Coast Labor members - Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones, as well as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and Independent Senator John Madigan
MUA Acting Southern NSW Branch Secretary Mick Cross said that there was only a handful of coastal ships left and at least two of those routes, once plied by the MV Portland and CSL Melbourne, were exploiting a loophole to employ foreign crews.
“The time has come to reinvigorate the shipping industry and the associated industries in mining and manufacturing, however the Government is taking a different tact and enabling those industries to crumble,” Mr Cross said.
“Australia is an island nation and as such should have a healthy domestic shipping industry, which provides good, skilled jobs to thousands of Australian men and women, many of whom are currently facing uncertain employment prospects going forward.
“Our message to the Government is simple: Save our industries and save our jobs.”
South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris commended the Maritime Union of Australia for their campaign and encouraged all unionists and unemployed people to join the Embassy.
“The future for workers on the south coast of New South Wales is bleak with the massive downturn at Bluescope and the decelerating mining industry and the Federal Government is acting like everything is rosy,” Mr Rorris said.
“Employment is the single-most important issue in Australia. Employment creates tax payers. Tax pays for health, education and services. Health, education and services are what differentiates Australia from the developing world, fosters the notion of the ‘Fair Go’ and what makes this country great.”
For all of the day's photos, go here.