FWO Should Be Seeking Job and Fuel Security For All Australians

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) should be holding multi-national corporations who are dumping Australian seafarers to account, and standing up for the Australian workers who are ready and able to do the jobs that are now being filled by exploited foreign labour.

In a media release the FWO alleges Transpetrol underpaid dozens of mostly Indian and Filipino crew more than $255,000 on the MT Turmoil oil tanker that operated in Australian waters between 2013-15.

"The oil tanker conducted a series of coastal trading voyages in Australian territorial waters between ports in Perth, Adelaide, Burnie, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin and the island of Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, under charter by two Australian companies, BP Australia and Caltex. No allegations are made against BP Australia or Caltex,” the FWO said.

"Transpetrol allegedly paid the foreign crew rates that were the equivalent of as little as $1.25 per hour in relation to base rates, in addition to industry specific allowances and overtime amounts.

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ACTU President Ged Kearney questioned the motives of the FWO.

"The replacement of Australian crew with foreign seafarers who are paid appallingly low wages and forced to work in horrendous conditions is a reprehensible practice which the FWO should be looking in to."

"There is a strong, skilled Australian workforce that should be able to find work, but when multi-nationals are allowed to pay workers cents on the dollar of a legal wage, it tears the bottom out of the labour market."

MUA National Secretary and ITF President Paddy Crumlin pointed the finger at the Anbbott/Turnbull Government, FWO, BP Australia and Caltex.

"There are now no Australian crews moving fuel around the Australian coast which flies in the face of any credible national security plan. Unlike Australian seafarers, foreign crews have no background checks yet they are carrying petroleum products, ammonium nitrate and LNG around the Australian coast.

"More than half of Australia's fuel comes through the Straits of Hormuz to Singapore and the narrow Straits of Malacca, an area already notorious for its piracy. Add to that the potential flashpoint in the South China Sea and it’s clear we should be refining at home and shipping fuel around the coast using Australian vessels and crews.

"The Turnbull Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to the IEA 90-day storage rules and BP Australia and Caltex should also be held responsible given they have in recent years replaced Australian-manned ships with FOC vessels flagged in notorious tax havens such as Panama.

"Until now, the MUA thought the $2/hour paid to the exploited foreign seafarers who replaced the Tandara Spirit was the bottom of the barrel but we’ve now found a new low of $1.25/hr. This is regulated slavery in a race to the bottom and it has to stop.

"The MUA has been saying for several years that BP ships around 900,000 tonnes of fuel each year from its Kwinana Refinery in Western Australia to other cities in Australia and this work should be undertaken by Australian seafarers as it qualifies as coastal cargo.

"So why is the FWO running around patting itself on the back when if it was doing its job, the agency would be ensuring Australians had the right to work in their own country?

"The FWO should be looking at ways for Australian workers to have jobs, then we wouldn’t be in this position. There are now no Australian-crewed fuel tankers, down from 11 in 1995 and there’s no way that’s in the national interest.

"The ongoing closure of refineries around Australia means we now import over 90 per cent of our petrol and diesel – up from 60 per cent in 2000 – and this number will continue to rise if there are any further closures of Australia’s few remaining refineries.”

ITF Australian National Co-ordinator Dean Summers said the buck must stop with Australian charterers.

"Not only did Australian seafarers lose their jobs, the Norwegian shipping company paid their Indian and Filipino workers as little as $1.25 an hour,” Mr Summers said. 

"The buck must stop with the Australian charterers of such coastal ships who rip-off international seafarers carrying their products in our domestic market.

Australian companies like BP and Caltex cannot just look the other way when hiring replacement ships – they must be held accountable and should be prosecuted along with the Norwegian owners."

The notorious Flag of Convenience (FOC) system provides and protects ownership and operators of these ships, and it is often difficult to establish who is responsible.

In a recent submission to the senate inquiry into FOC Shipping, Australian Border Force made the startling statement:

 “…there are features of FOC registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorist groups may seek to exploit.

These features are:  • a lack of transparency of the identity of shipowners and consequent impediment to holding the owner to account for a ship’s actions;”

“There are obvious national security implications of having sub-standard tankers replace Australian-manned ships in our ports, crewed by local seafarers who have been security screened to the highest international standards,” Mr Summers said.