MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin opened Day Two of the MUA’s Quadrennial National Conference explaining that attacks on jobs are also attacks on communities, attacks that lead to a whole range of individual and social dysfunction. Powerful unions don’t just win better wages, Crumlin explained, they win proper employee assistance and counselling programs and simple things like the ability to phone home in crisis.
He declared that the current global system is failing not only maritime workers but the whole working-class community. The MUA, along with Tony Maher from the mining division of the CFMEU, established Hunterlink to provide social assistance to workers. Hunterlink began by providing housing, because if you haven’t got a house you’ve got nothing.
Hunterlink has been continuously extended to meet the needs of maritime workers as they have been identified, and it currently provides company Employee Assistance Programs, operates a 24 hour national helpline, and assists many international seafarers.
“When we have tragedies at sea or at home, Hunterlink is there,” Crumlin said.
Conference delegates were shown a video about Hunterlink’s history and operations.
Gavin Kelso, CEO of Hunterlink, paid tribute to Hunterlink’s founder Paul Karras, who tragically died in 2015. When it comes to mental health, he said that so many people are judged on their worst day. The philosophy that Paul Karras built Hunterlink on was to judge people on their best day. Paul worked tirelessly to help people.
Kelso said that when companies make people redundant, many become suicidal. Dealing with workplace deaths can be very difficult. Hunterlink is there to help. Mental health services must be provided when people need them, but across Australia it can be very difficult to access these services. People get told they will need to wait two weeks. Hunterlink operates a 24-hour helpline and we can be anywhere in Australia in 12 hours.
Hunterlink also supports international seafarers and this work is supported by the ITF. Hunterlink assisted 854 international seafarers last year with mental health issues. Kelso said that international seafarers are expected to be away from their family and friends for up to 12 months at a time, but they do not get any training in how to deal with this. Many resort to self-harming, alcohol and substance abuse and can even be suicidal. Hunterlink assisted the seafarers on the Sage Sagittarius who were dealing not only with suspicious deaths on their ship, but with a significant police investigation.
Hunterlink was there helping the seafarers on the Alexander Spirit, the Portland, and the CSL Melbourne. Hunterlink was there after the death of Anthony Attard on the job in Melbourne. After the death of Andrew Kelly on a supply boat off the coast of WA, Kelso said that WA Branch Secretary Chris Cain had to fight tooth and nail to get Hunterlink on board to assist the rest of the crew.
“We want to understand your industries,” said Kelso. “Everyday we are learning what your needs are and we keep growing to meet that.”
Hunterlink is an official national Employee Assistance Program. Kelso said that Hunterlink has contracts with some companies, but asked for the help of MUA delegates in getting Hunterlink contracts with more employers. But Kelso also clarified that Hunterlink can help workers in workplaces where Hunterlink is not the official Employee Assistance Program.
MUA President Christy Cain concluded the session by thanking Kelso for all the work that Hunterlink does.