The ITF has held its first ever cabotage conference in Cape Town, South Africa with ITF President Paddy Crumlin saying many countries face similar battles against multinational businesses and conservative governments.
An initiative of the ITF Cabotage Taskforce, the conference has heard reports from affiliates all around the world.
Crumlin, who is also MUA National Secretary, said the current experience fighting temporary licenses in Australia is similar to the circumstances faced by domestic unions around the world.
“Australia is not alone in copping the blunt end of a conservative government stick,” Crumlin said.
“Many nations have the same problems with seafarers being unable to find work in their own country due to the increased use of Flag of Convenience (FOC) vessels.
“These FOC vessels are allowed to get around cabotage laws by governments issuing waivers and in Australia’s case, temporary licences.
“All of the unions present need to find new ways of staving off attacks.
“The FOC campaign of the ITF brings vessels with agreements up to a minimum standard which helps to close the gap and without this campaign there would be no minimum standard and national flag ships would never be able to compete.”
MUA Assistant National Secretary and ITF Cabotage Taskforce member Ian Bray said unions needed to band together to share their experience and chart the best way forward.
“Fighting the attacks on global cabotage must be done in a collaborative manner,” Bray said.
“We need to ensure that we are making the links between other countries and uniting in the fight,” Bray said.
“We are working closely with our Canadian comrades where we have a common link with CSL, and working with the ITF on other global giants like BP and Rio Tinto.”
It is important to note that ITF agreements for foreign seafarers on FOC ships does not mean opposition to Australian crews. In fact, it is the opposite.
Raising the cost of and standards on FOC ships is fundamentally required and this gap is a huge barrier to increasing Australian coastal content in shipping.
ITF agreements also contain provisions to prevent FOC seafarers performing wharfies’ work.
The shipping industry will not flourish on the basis of workers being forced into a race to the bottom competing with the most exploited workers in the world.
136 countries around the globe have cabotage provisions and most of them are under some kind of attack.
From ideological reasons to openly undermine provisions and policy inertia that allows the undermining of provisions by shipowners, all the way to the constant monitoring and lobbying to ensure the United States’ Jones Act remains, everyone is in a fight.
On top of that, you have free trade agreements that mean cabotage stands in the way of multinational corporations and their business interests.
In Australia, Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester has released a discussion paper and aims to introduce new legislation covering coastal shipping later this year.
"Australia has a very strict cabotage regime for aviation where foreign companies can't just come here and operate on domestic routes but there has been a very liberal approach to cabotage for the maritime sector," Mr Crumlin said recently.
“Without strong rules, Australian companies have to compete with cheap, exploited foreign labour, without adequate criminal checks, on Flag-of-Convenience vessels, the owners of which pay no tax and often flout safety laws.
“The Minister’s response needs to address taxation changes and the regime covering the issuing of temporary licences, in addition to fixing deficiencies in Maritime Crew Visas for foreign seafarers.”
Mr Crumlin cited Canadian Government’s settlement in February with the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada over breaches of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that will lead to hundreds of jobs for Canadian seafarers in their domestic trade.
Earlier this year, the UK Government said it was preparing to defend its maritime industry against the rise of cheap foreign shipping that threaten to price British seafarers out of the North Sea.
“The global trend among governments is to be more introspective and geared towards protecting local industries and jobs,” Crumlin said.
“Australian jobs in coastal shipping should be a no brainer – whether you look at it with respect to local jobs, national security, fuel security or protecting the environment.”