National Secretary's speech to AMSA Natship Conference 2012

Read the text of MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin's speech to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) 2012 Natship Conference in Melbourne on maximising Australia’s opportunities in domestic and global shipping.

Image - paddycrumlin2.jpg

Thanks Brad [Groves, Chair] and thanks also to AMSA for inviting me here today to speak about the future of shipping and how we maximise opportunities for growth both domestically and internationally.

We absolutely have opportunities for growth. Australia is a trade and maritime dependant nation that depends on shipping for 99% of its trade.

We’re a major supplier of raw materials for manufacturing, of energy for homes and businesses, and of food for a fast-growing Asia.

We also have long freight transport corridors, a vast coastline, and a highly uneven distribution of population. We cannot ignore shipping as part of the long-term solution for future freight distribution networks.

And in a global environment where we are necessarily becoming increasingly carbon-conscious, shipping is the least energy intensive of all the freight transport modes.

But there’s no doubt that a prerequisite to growth is ensuring that we invest in the skills and value of our shipping workforce.

I’ll give you a brief overview of some of the reforms that are currently taking place in the shipping sector both here and internationally.

I’ll also discuss how we can ensure that the regulatory levers that affect workers are set so that we can continue to grow as a shipping nation. 

Developments on the Australian waterfront

This year has been a great year for Australian shipping.

The most significant reform to the coastal trading provisions in the Australian Navigation Act in a century passed the Parliament barely two months ago, in the form of 5 new pieces of shipping reform legislation.

Some would say that’s not a difficult achievement given it remained virtually unchanged since its inception in 1912.

But it actually shows that shipping reform has been placed on the backburner for too long because there is no doubting the enormity of the reforms achieved.

The new legislation is aimed entirely at rebuilding Australia’s domestic and international shipping industry. 

The reforms will create employment, sustain business opportunities and productivity, attract investment into shipping and ensure that AMSA has the regulatory powers to ensure compliance by Australian International Ships with safety, environmental and occupational health and safety standards.

The reforms, which we have been advocating for 17 years, were supported both by industry and by the union movement.

And importantly, they were supported by the Gillard Labor Government and in particular Transport Minister Anthony Albanese who addressed this conference earlier today.

I’d like to publicly thank Minister Albanese for his vision in seeing the importance of keeping Australian flagged ships on the coast and the jobs that come with that.

On the back of that legislation came a new Compact (the Bluewater Shipping Reform Labour Relations Compact), signed by myself, Fred Ross on behalf of the AMOU Executive Council, and Teresa Lloyd, the Executive Director of the Bluewater employers’ Australian Shipowners Association.

It’s a truly historic agreement and it shows what can be achieved when we all work together for the future of Australian shipping.

We all have an obligation to contribute and to work collaboratively towards this end – Governments, investors, owners, employers, unions, regulators and facilitators.

There are definitely some principled employers that have had the foresight to rise above ideology and make a commitment to the future of the industry and the value of the workforce.

The MUA has, for example, in the context of some difficult labour relations negotiations, worked with industry to establish innovative models of workforce development.

The formation of METL, for example, avoided the emergence of a shortage of qualified and licensed Ratings in late 2011/early 2012.

And we secured industry funding, employee funding, international funding and Government funding to provide new entrant training in the Ratings stream.

I am pleased to say that the Government’s Maritime Workforce Development Forum is starting to show signs that the type of collaboration that METL achieved is possible on a wider scale. 

However, there are three things that will need to happen for this to bear real fruit.

First, the Forum will need to remain in place for some time – its work will not be complete in just one year or even two. 

I urge the Government to retain the Forum for a minimum of 5 years, but keep its performance under continuous review.

Second, the Forum will need to maintain a high level strategic focus and not seek to usurp the legitimate role of the social partners to reach negotiated outcomes.

In particular, it must respect the role of the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council (TLISC) as the key Government sanctioned industry body to respond to the skill needs of the industry. 

The Forum could be transitory, but we anticipate the Skills Council will be around for the long term. 

Similarly, the Skills Council must ensure it responds to the industry partners and not become captive of any sectional interest.

Third, the full spectrum of beneficiaries of the seafaring workforce including resource owners, ship owners, operators, employers, contractors and regulators will need to contribute to seafarer workforce development. 

What mustn’t happen is that the investment in the workforce should fall on just some of the beneficiaries.

There is, in my view, a major opportunity to establish a robust workforce planning capability that can deliver regular workforce and skills predictions with a degree of accuracy that ensures it has the confidence of the key stakeholders.

The difficulty I detect is that there remain some differences of exactly what we mean by a workforce planning capability.

The MUA’s view is that we need a predictive model that can at regular intervals come up with net demand predictions (gross demand minus net supply) for all sectors of the industry down to the occupational level.

I am fully supportive of the Government undertaking a census to establish some preliminary data and perhaps produce benchmark employment and occupational data. 

But how useful this data is of course depends on the census responses and should be a regular source of data – repeated every six months or so – so we can track changes over time.

We will continue to advocate for our preferred model which is something more permanent than a census, that is owned by the stakeholders and which delivers regular reports on demand predictions that then guides investment levels and RTO supply. 

There’s another opportunity that has come with establishment of the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency and the support available from the National Workforce Development Fund (linked to the central coordination role to be played by TLISC under the new national VET architecture for delivering workforce needs and skill requirements). 

It will be a test of the maturity of our industry as to how successful we are at using this new architecture.

Generally speaking, employers have been slow to embrace the opportunities for maximising the capacity of the maritime workforce. 

The difficulty we had in convincing the shipowners to support what we regarded as innovative proposals for advancing the objectives of the shipping reform package that would have been without doubt funded by Government, was disappointing. 

We put that down to the influence of a handful of cold war warriors and ideologues among the shipowners, but we remain optimistic that the national interest will prevail.

I am excited about the opportunity that exists in the wider maritime reforms that Minister Albanese is progressing, not least of which is establishment of AMSA as the national regulator for all commercial shipping. 

Nationally coordinated regulation of seafarer qualifications and licensing and of minimum safe crewing along with the benefits of STCW 2010 will create new opportunities for seamless career pathways and for innovation in delivering maritime training.

Finally, there is now an opportunity to reinvigorate ratings training delivery under an integrated partnership model that will result in considerable benefits to all stakeholders.

The union has recently adopted a new position on an integrated model in the ratings stream that I will shortly be communicating to the Skills Council, the shipowners and operators, to AMSA and the RTOs. 

I will also be raising it at the next Forum meeting.

Despite these opportunities and all indicators pointing to the importance of a higher qualified maritime workforce, the future and standing of the maritime workforce in Australia is under threat from sections of industry that are significant users of maritime skills who wish to de-recognise and de-skill certain maritime occupations, but particularly the core occupation of Integrated Rating, led by Woodside Petroleum and supported by the Australian Mines and Metals Association.

We are doing everything possible to try to get unanimity in Government on the issue, but again, we foreshadow a major campaign on the issue if reason cannot succeed.

The MUA will vigorously fight this de-skilling strategy.

We all have an obligation to all work productively together when it comes to safety for people who work in the shipping sector.

The twin issues of workforce development and workforce safety, in my view, transcend the traditional employer versus union paradigm.

These are issues where we all have to work together because, like it or not, we’re dealing with people’s lives and while some might like to think people are doing jobs that are easily transferable from land jobs, operating at sea is a completely different kettle of fish. 

It’s not just a land job with a prettier view.

When you’re on a ship, there normally isn’t a float through emergency department or hospital around the corner and there isn’t a fire station four blocks away.

What you’ve got on the ships is it.

You need people with the capacity to deal with emergencies.

I believe we are on the cusp of a significant new commitment to maritime workforce development in Australia that will underpin the revitalisation and expansion of Australian shipping.

Seafaring - A globalised labour market

Seafaring is also a truly global or internationalised workforce and one which has operated in a globalised seafarer labour market for decades.

It has been a great feat that this globalised workforce is regulated by a single global set of standards covering training, certification and watch keeping for seafarers. 

Irrespective of which nation a seafarer originates from, no matter what shipping line of branch of shipping they work in, a Master, a Chief Engineer, an Able Seaman will have undertaken essentially the same training and hold essentially the same skill set.

This outcome can be attributed to the work of the global shipowners, operators, trade unions and national regulators working through the institution of IMO and now the ILO. 

I want to pay tribute to the work AMSA does with the IMO – AMSA has a proud history of involvement in that space. 

Of course there is a good reason why we are such strong participants in the IMO – not least of which is because we are one of the largest shipping nations in the world.

Minister Albanese must also be congratulated on his commitment to the IMO. It is absolutely vital that an Australian Transport Minister is unwavering in their support of the IMO.

Reducing the differentials in standards between the developed nations and developing nations

I think it’s also fantastic that seafarers from both the developing nations and from the developed nations continue to work side by side in shipping and on ships. 

In the senior officer and senior engineering occupations there are not huge pay differentials in the quality end of the shipping market.

This is not the case however for ratings occupations, where the imbalance can be as great as 5:1 and there are a number of global actions that are playing out on this issue.

What is critical is that the seafarers of all nations can participate in the global seafarer labour market while at the same time ensuring that shipping remains competitive and efficient, and that investors can still secure good returns on their capital outlays.

One of the more significant developments is the imminent coming into force of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, which Australia ratified late in 2011.

The MUA and the ITF both believe that the Convention will lift the bar in terms of seafarer conditions of employment and seafarer welfare.

And it will be up to high quality regulators like AMSA to show international leadership in both its Flag State Control but importantly its Port State Control functions to demonstrate that the global effort over many years (culminating in the MLC) to address the worst features of seafarer exploitation has been worthwhile and that this Convention will act as a real protection for seafarers.

Rigorous enforcement will ensure that the conditions of employment and the work environment generally enjoyed by workers in the developed nations can also become part of the working life of seafarers form the developing world.

A second development has been the implementation of the so-called Manila amendments – the 2010 amendments to the IMO Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

These amendments strengthen the standards for seafarer qualifications and licensing in acknowledgement of the evolving nature of seafarer occupations.

And they remove some of the barriers to career advancement for seafarers.

While adoption of the Manila amendments has suffered a minor setback in Australia (through a revised Marine Order 3 under the Navigation Act), we remain confident that the issue can be worked through, and the Australian Government will give effect to its commitment in the near future.

A third development, and one where Australia has shown global leadership, is in establishment of genuine National Flag Registers.

In our case the Australian International Shipping Register which came into effect on last month (1 July 2012).

Genuine National Flag Registers such as the AISR or the Norwegian International Register have qualitatively different characteristics than second registers or Flag of Convenience (FOC) Registers due to the genuine link between beneficial ownership or strategic management and the nation of registration.

This too helps lift the standards of ship operations and the conditions of seafarer employment.

A fourth development, and one in which I am intimately involved, is the negotiation of the International Bargaining Forum Collective Agreement.

This will be truly global collective agreement, which will cover some 5,700 ships and more than 100,000 seafarers from across nearly 40 nations.  

The top shelf owners represented by the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC) and the International Mariners Management Association of Japan (IMMAJ) understand the competitive and commercial benefits that flow from the adoption of quality industrial agreements for seafarers.

It is through the IBF bargaining process that these employers agreed to establish and support a Seafarer Employment Promotion Fund, which is making significant contributions to workforce development and seafarer welfare in a number of nations, including Australia.

I have recently returned from a meeting in the Philippines with the Trustees of the Seafarer Employment Promotion Fund who continue to support seafarer workforce development in Australia, as an integral part of their commercial interests in the Australian market.

Once again, this is an important initiative that is helping to build alliances between ship owners, ship operators, shipping users and seafarer supply nations and to lift the quality of the seafaring workforce.

So in summary, Australia has an opportunity to be at the vanguard of workforce development.

The maritime workforce remains unique in that its genesis derives from a long and rich maritime tradition and history.

While the workforce and its skill set has evolved over time in response to ship and port technology, and the wider range of maritime activity some things have remained the same. 

For example, the hazards of working at sea remain pretty much the same now as they were a century ago. 

Some hazards have in fact increased due to the increased volume of maritime activity in certain sea lanes and ports and the nature of maritime activity, such as in exploitation of offshore resources, has meant that seafarers are exposed to increasingly dangerous situations.

This is exactly why the maritime workers and the Maritime Union of Australia have always argued that well-developed safety skills are a necessary part of being a seafarer and any attempt to reduce minimum standards.

The isolation of the workplace has remained the same over time, at the same time as community expectations about what is a reasonable balance between work and family life has changed quite dramatically.

Ships remain as sophisticated and self-contained worksites and living spaces without access to the usual support services such as ambulances, fire fighting, health facilities etc. 

All these characteristics of ships and shipping have implications for the workforce. 

They impact on the skills required, the teamwork required, the communications required, and importantly on the attributes of the workforce – their multi-skilling, their flexibility, their adaptability. 

These characteristics should never be forgotten when considering the role of shipping in our economies, in our trading relationships and in fulfilling our responsibilities to regulation of shipping, in managing safety, in training and workforce development.

The Battlefront Lies Elsewhere

However for a union such as the MUA, things never exist in isolation and even though we are seeing dramatic improvements on some fronts, loopholes emerge in others.

Take, for example, the way the migration zone is being manipulated by Chevron and its contactor Allseas on the $43bn Gorgon project.

The Gorgon project is tapping into gas reserves under the seabed 130 kilometres off the north‑west coast of Western Australia.

Frustratingly, a number of those jobs are not going to Australian workers.

We’re not happy with the overall level of investment and training, as well as the lack of local content for manufacturing.

But if that isn’t bad enough, a Swiss contractor called Allseas is taking things one step further by importing foreigners on business and tourist visas to lay pipe on the Gorgon project on Barrow Island.

Allseas is now bringing in foreign workers on tourist visas putting them on ships on Dampier sending them out to work on what is claimed to be outside the migration zone and not required to pay tax, GST, they are not required to be competently trained, there is no training or no support or no skills base for these workers.

They are not required to have the Fair Work Act applied to them, they are not required to have any act applied to them.

Allseas are virtually walking in a foreign workforce and working in an Australian high level, high productivity, high security area as foreign guest workers, because of this anomaly of the Migration Act.

Now if this allowed to continue the migration zone will probably end up off Fort Denison or Kangaroo Island or Rottnest Island and anyone working outside that will be a foreign guest worker.

Not an EMA, not on a 457, not in anyway controlled or regulated, these are high security areas, an Australian worker out there is required to have a security card and they are under more scrutiny than Ivan Milat.

These people come in and they are treated like the royal family: ‘Please come in take our jobs, don’t pay any tax, go for your life.’

Now as with any legal argument, it comes down to the detail.

Under the Migration Act, a person on board a vessel and in direct contact with pipelines stretching to the seabed has entered Australia's migration zone by virtue of that contact and by virtue should be on a 457 visa.

In documents tendered to the Federal Court Allseas argues it shouldn't have to use 457 visas because its foreign workers are on vessels that can't be considered a permanent fixture or installation in Australia's migration zone.

(Extract from Allseas court transcript)

"The non-citizens engaged on the vessels will not at any material time come into physical contact with any pipe on a vessel while that pipe is connected to a pipeline which stretches unbroken from the vessel to the seabed."

"There will be significantly increased costs for the applicant if the key employees and the construction crew do require 457 visas."

(End of extract)

The crux of the legal problem is whether workers from other countries should be working within Australian territorial waters and continental shelf areas without a visa technically the 457 visa, which would entitle them to certain wages and conditions.

457 visas guarantee Australian wages and conditions. And this is a separate argument again from whether Australian workers should be receiving the training they need to be doing the jobs in the first place.

From what we know, Allseas is saving 40 to 50 per cent on wages by bringing in workers on tourist and business visas. 

The union keeps receiving copies of crew lists with a bunch of foreign workers who will be paid less than their Australian counterparts and are often doing jobs which local workers would desperately like to do.

These companies are trying to bust the laws of Australia to get some commercial advantage and in an industry that's high risk, that requires great competency, that is high value, and of which we've got a reputation as being amongst the safest and the best in the world.

So, it's just a cheap shot by Chevron and Allseas.

They don't pay tax. They are coming here, bludging on the system and delivering themselves a competitive advantage at the same time.

I put forward an amendment at the ALP National Conference in December last year, which was seconded by Dave Noonan from the CFMEU, to fix this mess.

Subsequent rallies in Perth have had the backing of other unions such as the AMWU and ETU.

Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has committed to make changes to the Migration Act and we will continue to work with Minister Bowen and the rest of the Government to fix this issue.

It's a corporate disgrace and the legislation needs to be changed.

The migration zone needs to be extended everywhere there is Australian territory and Australian workers, Australian legislation, Australian terms and conditions should apply.                            

There’s unimaginable profit to be made in offshore oil and gas, yet these companies want to rip off both foreign workers and Australian workers.

The Australian people want decency, transparency and job security for all workers whether they be Australian or foreign and we won’t stand for anything less.

And speaking of decency, transparency and job security, that brings me to the topic of our old foes at Patrick’s.

It doesn’t matter who is running the place, they can’t seem to help themselves.

Last week, new figures were released which show that Port Botany has recorded its eleventh straight year of growth in container traffic.

Sydney Ports Corporation said that box trade through Port Botany recorded 11 consecutive years of growth as container traffic exceeded 2.036 million teu in the last financial year.

Total full container exports for the financial year 2011/12 rose by more than four per cent over the same period last year, reaching over 365,064 teu.

Total full container imports for the financial year also increased by four per cent to 928,008 teu.

Yet the board of Asciano, which owns Patrick’s, is pushing ahead with its plans to automate Port Botany – a flawed and ideologically driven strategy if ever I’ve seen one.

The company announced in mid-July that 270 of its 511-strong Port Botany waterfront workforce will be made redundant by mid 2014 and replaced with Autostrad technology.

This ill-considered move by Patrick to automate its Port Botany operations has the capacity to greatly undermine the steady growth in volumes and productivity in the port - particularly in Patrick’s part of it.

It’s a return to a darker time of industrial relations that Asciano feels comfortable to negotiate the current EBA on a declared set of three year plans for their business, which was settled earlier this year after 20 months of negotiations, while secretly planning how it would automate operations and sack more than half its Port Botany workforce.

This threatens to return Patrick’s to a controversial and dysfunctional stevedoring operation due to the cynical and dismissive fashion in which the company seems to view good faith bargaining in one of their major new EBAs.

In my other role as President of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Chair of the ITF Dockers section, I can assure you that this type of action is being watched closely from abroad.

Automation without negotiation and agreement is the most controversial issue in the international stevedoring industry and is as industrially contentious in the current round of contract negotiations on the East Coast of the United States as it is here in Australia.

For Patrick’s management to overlook informing the MUA in the long and difficult negotiations of the EBA while squealing about the union being the problem in those negotiations brings them into international focus as the type of stevedoring employer the industry can do without.

We finalised carefully crafted understandings on maximising throughput and container rates in a fair and open manner while they secretly sat back and conspired against their own workers.

To reach a landmark agreement and put out joint statements about a new era of stability and maturity with the company and then be slapped in the face with this adversarial and dismissive approach is simply not acceptable.

And all of this while their two major competitors DP World and Hutchison are currently negotiating the level of automation in their agreements only highlights further the total lack of insight Asciano has into the stevedoring industry and the workforce that it relies on.

So it seems fair to say that there are interesting times ahead.