The Maritime Union of Australia has officially opened its Bluewater Shipping Commission at the Victorian Branch office in Melbourne.
The commission will run until Wednesday and covers several topics including industrial, political, campaigning and alliances with other unions.
Australia moves 99 per cent of its freight by sea and has the fourth largest shipping task in the world.
The country needs a strong coastal shipping fleet in order to maintain the maritime skills base, as well as protect jobs, the environment and our national security.
The decline of manufacturing is also significant problem when it comes to jobs and these industries should be supported.
MUA Victorian Branch Secretary Joe Italia welcomed attendees, saying the bluewater industry is under sustained attack.
MUA Victorian Branch Secretary Joe Italia
"A year ago, we were down at the MV Portland where our members were ripped out of their bunks,” Italia said.
On January 13 this year, at 1am five crewmembers aboard the Alcoa-owned vessel – the MV Portland – were woken by up to 30 security guards and intimidated into leaving the vessel following a dispute lasting more than two months.
The Turnbull government had allowed the company to use a 12-month temporary licence to bring in foreign vessels and foreign crew on as little as $2/hr.
The MV Portland had been carrying alumina from Alcoa’s Kwinana plant to its smelter in Portland for more than 27 years and given the domestic trade will continue, the work should be performed by an Australian crew.
The MV Portland and CSL Melbourne led to the Jobs Embassy being set up outside Parliament House in Canberra during sitting weeks in the first half of the year.
"We seek justice on behalf of our members,” Italia said. "It’s for these disputes that we are here … we need to rebuild this industry - our industry."
MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray
MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said this week’s commission is important for many reasons.
"The industry is in crisis - no–one would argue that,” Bray said.
"That’s why we are meeting here this week. How do we get active, how do we get mass action with our program - it means all of the approaches to deliver a future for our industry
"But it isn’t just our industry that is in crisis, it’s also manufacturing in this country.
"We have a (federal) government that laughed at the car industry and challenged them to leave our shores – well they did and along with it goes 70,000 – 80,000 jobs and shipping is a big part of the transport for the manufacturing sector.
"There are also attacks on partnerships in towage, automation on the waterfront.
"The political crisis is about this government wanting to do in trade unionism - we’ve had the Tandara Spirit and the MV Portland then the Fair Work Ombudsman ties us up for years.
"But we can’t just rely on the ALP - It needs a multi-partison solution in addition to industrial – what is our bargaining strategy over the next few years?
"It’s about us, our families and our community and sustainable jobs for the next generation."
MUA Tasmanian Branch Secretary Jason Campbell
MUA Tasmanian Branch Secretary Jason Campbell said that when he went to sea in 1988, BHP had 34 ships on the coast now there are just 25 overall, across all sectors.
"We need to get this right not just for the current generation of seafarers but also the next generation of seafarers,” Campbell said.
The group paid tribute and held a minute’s silence in deference to Colin 'Skeeter' Thomas and Brian Harley, both former members who passed away in recent times.
Victorian Deputy Branch Secretary Mark Jones