International Affairs and Campaigns Take Centre Stage At MUA National Council

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in conjunction with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has established a new campaign centre in Sydney as the engine room of ITF campaigning in the Asia-Pacific.

Addressing MUA National Council this week in Sydney, MUA National Secretary and ITF President Paddy Crumlin discussed the strategy behind the new campaign centre, which is now leading three global flagship campaigns of the ITF. 

“We have a responsibility to reclaim and consolidate our institutions to put together global campaigns to effectively deal with the globalisation of capital,” Crumlin said.

“The need for strong global unions has never been greater. Look at the abuses we are seeing from the neoliberal agenda worldwide - an attack on workers, casual and precarious work, exploitation and inequality.

“The top one per cent already controls almost all the wealth in this world – what’s that going to be like in 15, 20 years if we don’t do something about it?

“We will have the ability through our amalgamated union and the new ITF to change how we campaign, how we deal with global employers, and how we mobilise workers world-wide.”

ITF Australian Campaign Director Shannon O’Keeffe, who heads the new centre, reported on three global campaigns led from the ITF’s new Sydney campaign centre.

"The ITF is serious about leading large-scale, innovative, global campaigns that challenge capital, raise standards, and get a better deal for workers.

One of the campaigns targets ICTSI, a rapidly growing stevedoring from the Philippines, which is expanding world-wide.

“What’s at stake in these campaigns – look at ICTSI in Madagascar, where 1500 port workers earn just $20 US dollars a month,” O’Keeffe said.

“They want a union and they know only a union contract will raise their standard of living. They want to be part of a global labor movement – and they can only get that by coordinated multi-site workplace activism through the ITF.”

ITF Maritime Coordinator, Jacqueline Smith, reported on the change process in the new ITF, which sees the organisation shifting to focus on powerful and modern campaigning.

A former National Secretary of the Norwegian Seafarer’s Union, Smith has led the ITF’s maritime section of the ITF for more than two years.

“Right now we have some incredibly dynamic campaigners working in the ITF our campaigns. These campaigns are vital. You have to go for it. You have to win,” Smith said.

Fighting for seafarer jobs is a major focus of Smith’s work in the ITF.

Around the world, national seafarers in countries such as Australia, US, Canada, UK and Norway are fighting for the right to work in their own country.

Free trade agreements, company attacks and government regulation could see many national seafarers replaced by exploited workers paid $2 an hour on unregulated Flag of Convenience (FOC) vessels.

Smith has established a ‘cabotage task force’, which bringing together maritime unions globally to campaign for strong cabotage laws to protect the rights of seafarers to work in their own country.

“We know the tides are shifting. We have to establish strong cabotage arrangements now or [these jobs] will all be lost. For every rig that goes, you have at least six offshore vessels that go with it. The time to campaign is now,” Smith said.

National Council paid tribute to Smith for backing critical ITF campaigns such as ICTSI and Chevron and the formation of the ITF’s new Sydney campaign centre.

ITF Australia Coordinator Dean Summers reported on the FOC campaign, which saw more than $3 million in lost wages returned to international seafarers in Australian waters in the past year.

Summers also spoke of the Sage Sagittarius, which is the subject of an ongoing coronial inquest that led to a 4 Corners episode and ongoing Senate Inquiry into FOC shipping 

The Senate inquiry has already released an interim report, that makes many references to a suite of work that the MUA/ ITF have been driving and includes:

·         The erosion of the Australian flag through unfair FOC competition

·         Environmental impact from FOCs

·         Loss of jobs and erosion of maritime skills base

·         Fuel Security

·         National Security

·         Cabotage

·         Temporary Licences

·         Sage Sagittarius

·         Portland dispute

The recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1

4.12 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth undertake a review of the Australian maritime sector, with a view to building on the 2012 reforms aimed at growing the Australian-flagged shipping industry in the future.

Recommendation 2

4.13 The committee recommends that this review include a comprehensive whole-of-government assessment of the potential security risks posed by flag of convenience vessels and foreign crews.

Recommendation 3

4.14 The committee recommends that this review include consideration of ways to harmonise the operations of the Australian shipping sector across jurisdictions through COAG to reduce red tape for vessel and port operators, including cargo handling provisions. 

Recommendation 4

4.15 The committee recommends that this review include widespread consultation with the Australian shipping industry to ensure that its findings are relevant and directed to shared objectives for the future of the local maritime sector.

Recommendation 5

4.16 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth immediately tighten the provisions for temporary licenses in Australian maritime law, to flag of convenience vessels being used on permanent coastal freight routes if they fail to pay Australian award wages to their crew.

Recommendation 6

4.17 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth adopt a broader and more rigorous approach to the risk assessment and oversight of seafarers working in Australian waters on maritime visas, and better share this information across relevant Commonwealth and jurisdictional agencies.

Recommendation 7

4.18 The committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to work with international agencies, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to improve the working conditions, safety standards, and rates of remuneration for seafarers working in international shipping.

Recommendation 8

4.19 The committee recommends that the Australian government look for ways to support the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to make flag of convenience shipping more accountable to international law and, when in Australian waters, to our national regulations.

Recommendation 9

4.20 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth consider ways to improve the early intervention and counselling resources available to crews on international vessels, including those operating on flag of convenience registers.

Later, Maritime International Federation International Executive Officer Mick Doleman hosted a panel involving Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) General Secretary Joe Fleetwood, KPI Indonesia President Rustandi Hanafi, PNG MTWU General Secretary Reg McAlister and East Timorese SMETL’s Carolina Carlos.

All participants reported that MIF, established in 2015 to forge closer trade union ties in the region, was running smoothly.