Maritime unions of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and East Timor formally joined forces last year to establish the Maritime International Federation (MIF) to forge closer ties within our region.
The new federation is already shaping up as a powerful campaigning organisation, with projects underway in East Timor and Papua New Guinea.
MIF Executive Officer Mick Doleman told the conference about the fight for workers' rights and justice.
“The objectives of the unions in this federation are to work together, within the ITF,” Doleman said.
“We all have something to add, from occupational health and safety to political and industrial militancy. It’s about helping unions those countries in the region that need our help and support."
National Secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand Joe Fleetwood said the Maritime International Federation is about organising across borders.
“Helping, supporting, bringing like-minded unions together as equals. We’ve got a big work plan underway”, Mr Fleetwood said.
“With the global shift of corporate capital implementing an anti-working class agenda, an attack on workers, the Maritime International Federation is important, very important.
"The Pacific is the ocean of the future and we must organise.”
National Secretary of the Papua New Guinea Maritime and Transport Union Reg McAllister said his country deals with many of the same maritime and resource giants as Australia
“We’re all experiencing the same industrial struggles, the same industrial disputes. So we came together,” McAllister said.
Hitting the ground running
MIF is already making its presence felt, with Doleman outlining the federation’s campaign to protect jobs and safety on the waterfront in PNG.
“The PNG Government has called for tenders for the major ports in Port Moresby and Lae,” he said.
“Existing port operator Swires, which has good union relationships, has been locked out of the tender process. The new tendering companies include DP World and the ICTSI.
"ICTSI, a Philippines-based outfit, are also setting up an automated container terminal Melbourne. They have a questionable record of human rights abuses in the ports they operate around the world.
“The Maritime Federation is meeting with ICTSI right now to seek a commitment about dignity, certainty and jobs for the workers in these ports."
Fighting for better safety
Doleman outlined a detailed plan to establish better safety, access to training and jobs, and a stronger union voice for maritime workers in East Timor.
“The maritime union in Timor Leste has had five members tragically killed in a 12 month period. Occupational health and safety will be a critical area of work for the Maritime International Federation,” he said.
Doleman said MIF has also raised thousands of dollars raised to assist unions in Vanuatu with building and reconstruction in the wake of Cyclone Pam in 2015.
Union growth a top priority
McAllister reported on the massive grown that has been achieved by his union in Papua New Guinea.
“During the last 5 years, organising has been our priority. With assistance from MIF, the MUA, Mick Doleman and Shannon O’Keeffe, we have doubled our union membership in Papua New Guinea."
The Timorese maritime union SMET-TL reported on their plans to grow the maritime union in Timor Leste.
Maritime and Transport Union of East Timor (SMET-TL) National Secretary Paulino Da Costa, addressed delegates through his interpreter, Luzinha Gomes.
“Our vision is to build union membership and density so our members can achieve better conditions of employment and security,” they said.
Without unions these workers have no protection
ITF Australia Campaign Director Shannon O’Keeffe, paid tribute to the PNG union.
“In Papua New Guinea, two organisers have generated 2,000 new members two years," O’Keeffe said.
“Without a union contract, in these developing countries, workers have no protection. The oil companies come in, strip the wealth and resources, and the workers, who were promised a once in a generation opportunity to lift out of poverty, are left with nothing.”
“Union organising matters. Those workers want what we want. Those workers want to enjoy, and have the right to enjoy, the benefits of resource development in their countries. Just as we do.
“In 2020 our region will produce more than anywhere else in the world. It’s a fight for justice and a fight for power."
The conference also acknowledged the work of APHEDA, the overseas arm of Australian Unions, which has been instrumental in building strong fighting unions in East Timor and other countries in the region.