GLADSTONE, Sunday, July 26: The MUA crew of the Rio Tinto Marine vessel Fitzroy River refuse to sail. Their decision and determination to sit in was a major victory for Australian shipping and Australian seafarers.
Their action won the day with the transport minister bringing the company and union to the table and Rio agreeing to a 7-point plan that promises to deliver Australian crewed ships as the current fleet is retired. The company also agreed to drop all court action.
Despite individual crew members facing the threat of legal action they remained committed to the battle to keep Australian vessels on the coastal trade.
Talks between ministry for transport officials, MUA officials, Paddy Crumlin, Rick Newlyn, Rod Pickette, Dean Summers, Ben Swan, AWU and senior company management went into last evening yesterday before the agreement was reached and taken to the crew members to vote on. The vessel left port last night.
The crew action was born out of frustration after 18 months of negotiations with Rio.
Despite a previous written commitment to replace existing tonnage with Australian crewed and flagged vessels on the coast, the prospect of a package of fiscal incentives for the industry to go to cabinet and federal government commitment to revitalize coastal shipping, the multinational had announced the ship would be replaced with a foreign crew and flag of convenience vessel.
"We feel we'd been stabbed in the back," said Fitzroy MUA delegate Mike Sheehan. "This ship is an Australian workplace. It's our jobs. This should not have been happening."
Branch Secretary Mick Carr said the Fitzroy has done around 720 voyages on the coast over 25 years, covering 75,000 kilometers carrying 50,400 million tonnes of bauxite and alumina.
"We've got a letter from Rio dating back to 2005 committing the company to all new builds would be Australian crewed," he said
As the crew on board prepared for the worst, the ACTU was convening a top-level meeting with Rio executives for the end of July.
The Fitzroy is one of a fleet of five Rio ships under scrutiny. The Alltrans was discharged last year, both the Fitzroy and Endeavour River are marked to go this year.
The ACTU and the MUA are therefore demanding that Rio Tinto Marine replace both the Alltrans and the Fitzroy River with an Australian flagged and crewed vessels and register their 2007 new build Wakmatha as an Australian vessel.
In a letter to the Gladstone Observer, crew member Brian Carpenter wrote: ' These are hard times and workers' jobs are being lost Australia-wide because of lack of work and we feel for them.
"The Australian crew are not going to lose their jobs because of a lack of work, but because a multinational company is trying to eliminate by fair means or foul an Australian organized workforce by importing one of their own into the country.
"To quote a former PM who some believe infamously said; "We will decide who comes into Australia"
"We say we should decide who works in Australia not multinationals.