Free Trade Should Not Come Before Basic Human Rights

Global maritime unions have banded together as ill-advised governments and trading blocs continue to undermine workers’ rights in the name of free trade.
The Seafarers' International Union of Canada (SIU) said last week that it was forming a coalition with Canadian and global transport unions over their significant concerns surrounding the Canadian-European Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the lack of transparency from those who were making the deal. Read the SIU's press release here.

The SIU said in a statement that this free trade agreement will allow EU beneficially owned Flag of Convenience (FOC) vessels and so-called European National Flag to trade freely between Canadian ports without any restrictions on origin of the crew, or level of wage and working conditions.
“What we can be sure about is that this agreement will completely halt the Canadian maritime transport sector's growth. Moreover, the communities and regions that depend on this industry will be destroyed. Once this agreement is in place, it will not take long before the rest of the Canadian transportation sectors are affected, including, air, road and rail,” the statement said.
SIU President and Chair of the Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition, James Given said:  "This agreement will have a severe negative impact on the Canadian Maritime Industry by opening domestic trade to foreign carriers, doing away with our cabotage laws. This is the most serious threat that we have ever faced in our industry."
The Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition said it is is working diligently with representatives from various transportation unions from around the globe to ensure that CETA is in no way successful in destroying the Canadian marine transportation industry and the logistics that will follow.
This coalition includes leaders from the following Unions from Canada and around the globe:  UNIFOR, International Longshoremen's Association, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Alliance du St-Laurent, Canadian Union of Public Employees- Dockers, United Steelworkers, Canadian Labour Congress, Teamsters Canada, International Transport Workers' Federation, European Transport Workers' Federation, BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union, International Association of Machinists, Maritime Union of Australia, AFL- CIO Maritime Trades Department.
Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation President Paddy Crumlin said maritime unions across the globe were facing similar challenges.
“The possibility of an attack on the protection that cabotage gives Australian seafarers in coastal trade is a distinct possibility under the Abbott Government,” Mr Crumlin said.
"The fact that other unions are experiencing a similar thing means we have moved to an international footing of ITF unions in opposition across the globe.
“The MUA strongly urges the Abbott Government to retain and improve the Coastal Trading Act. It is in the national interest to retain and grow the coastal shipping industry. There are persuasive economic, supply chain security, skill retention, environmental and strategic reasons for retaining policies that provide fair competition to enable Australian coastal shipping to prosper and grow.
Mr Crumlin said that what is required is Government action to provide the appropriate access regime to ensure Australian coastal shipping and international shipping can both participate in Australia’s sea trade task on a fair competitive basis, in a way that provides an efficient transportation mode for cargo interests to complement both road and rail freight.
“The existence of an Australian coastal shipping fleet improves competition and dampens freight rates,” he said.
“If General Register ships were to lose the support of regulation, current low freight rates provided by foreign ships cannot be guaranteed because foreign ships would be given a monopoly position in most Australian trades.
“Reliance on a spot shipping market will inevitably lead to disruptions to domestic trade because shippers reliant on a spot market can have no control over ship scheduling and hence reliability, nor over access to fit for purpose ships that meet the shipper’s specifications for carriage of specialist cargo types such as in the case of food grade cargo, perishable cargo or cargo requiring temperature control, nor on ship port calls and many other features that are part of the competitive equation.
“Price is not the only aspect of competition that is important in Australian sea freight markets. Maintenance of a critical mass in the Australian Bluewater trading ship fleet is essential to provide the training berths for the supply of qualified seafarers that support all aspects of the maritime industry, both on-board and onshore.”
The MUA is currently taking action in the Federal Court against the Abbott Government’s recent move to open the back door to cheap foreign labour in the offshore oil and gas sector.
The union also slammed the Abbott Government's recent proposal to allow employers to take on foreign workers on wages and conditions below Australian standards.

Download the SIU's press release here.