By Glen Williams. Originally published in the Newcastle Herald.
I went to sea at 17-years-old. You could say the salt runs in my blood.
I was a seafarer, my late father was a seafarer, his father was a seafarer and so was his father before him. My brother and sister still go to sea, as does my partner. But sadly, this is where it will probably end.
My one-year-old daughter Billy Rose will most likely not have the same opportunity to take up a seafaring career unlike her forebears, and to me, this is heart-breaking.
There’s a lot of mystery around seafaring and the public is generally not aware of the importance of having a domestic shipping industry.
There’s a whole host of arguments around maintaining a strong merchant navy, particularly in times of conflict, but none of those arguments seem to be resonating, either because people are distracted, or they too are worried about the future of their jobs and the prospects for their children.
Last week, five seafarers aboard the CSL Melbourne - a cargo ship which trades exclusively between Gladstone and Newcastle - were removed by up to 50 NSW police. Not only was this a waste of tax-payer’s money, it should send chills down the spine of every worker in this country.
These blokes were not terrorists, or thugs, they were just five crewmembers who had taken it upon themselves to take a stand, to tell the public, the Government and their employer that being replaced by developing world workers on as little as $2-an-hour, was not acceptable.
Are we entering a new era of industrial relations, whereby one day you’re working, paying tax, providing for your family and the next the police are marching you straight to the long-term unemployment queue?
No Australian worker can or should be made to compete with $2-an-hour. It’s not just the paltry wage, either. I have been aboard some foreign ships, berthed right here in Newcastle, the conditions on which would shock anyone with an ounce of compassion. I’ve talked to seafarers who have shown me depleted stores with only rotting vegetables and the only protein being made up of the fish caught over the deck. I’ve been privy to tales where drinking water is rationed and anything above the ration is charged at $5 per 2 litre bottle. The withholding of their already dire wages is more commonplace than not because they have no recourse. And this is what big multi-nationals and their cheerleaders in government want workers to receive in the name of maintaining ‘global competitiveness’.
The company which chartered the vessel – Pacific Aluminium – is crying poor. They say their hand was forced. Let’s keep in mind that Pacific Aluminium is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto, a mining company with bigger half-year profits than the GDP of Switzerland. That’s profit, not revenue. So forgive my lack of sympathy.
However, my main gripe is with the government, now under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull. His government has not only allowed Pacific Aluminium to replace its Australian workers, they have actively enabled it by granting a special licence to the company to contravene Australia’s shipping legislation.
The route of the CSL Melbourne was domestic only, no different to a truck carrying alumina from the Queensland refinery to the smelter at Tomago. If the government hands these licenses to shipping companies, who is to say they won’t find a loophole to allow this to happen in other industries?
Whose job will be next?
This piece was originally posted here on the 23rd February 2016