Maritime Union Says Any New Visa System Must Address Coastal Shipping

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says any changes to Australia’s visa system must address current deficiencies in Maritime Crew Visas and the issuing of temporary licenses for coastal shipping trade when there are Australian workers available and willing to do the work.

The Turnbull Government today announced new categories of foreign worker visas, a 2-year visa under which there will be no residency option and a 4-year visa for higher skilled jobs requiring mandatory criminal checks and better English in clear areas of need to replace the 457 visa.

Mr Turnbull said the government would no longer allow 457 visas “to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians”.

The announcement came on the same day aviation industry advocates said changes in cabotage laws would lead to reduced safety and job losses in Australia’s vast transport sector.

Qantas’ submission to the Senate red tape committee chaired by NSW Senator David Leyonhjelm warned overseas carriers should not be allowed to operate on domestic routes in Australia as any changes would have substantial economic, employment and operational risks.

"Put simply, this would be a disastrous trade negotiation strategy and deny Australian airlines a clear measure of certainty around which they can base long-term investment planning," it says.

Qantas also warns of safety risks flowing from airlines "operating in lower-cost safety regimes with different standards" and potential job losses.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the same arguments were true in shipping as made in the MUA submission to the Senate red tape committee and that future changes should tighten cabotage rules as opposed to any move towards deregulation.

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.

“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.

In addition, United States Customs and Border Protection officials are poised to revise dozens of rulings related to the Jones Act dating back 40 years that would restore over 3,200 American jobs and close loopholes that gave preference to foreign workers and foreign shipbuilding.

“The global trend among governments is to be more introspective and geared towards protecting local industries and jobs. 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.”