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 60-day dispute.
I am one of those crew members and I’m joined by a number of comrades here in Canberra today. I am making this statement on behalf of the crew of the MV Portland.
Since the dispute started, we have been joined by like-minded protesters opposed to our sacking and many in the community were outraged by the circumstances of our forced removal.
A recent rally in the town of Portland, in south-east Victoria and the place from which the ship takes its name, attracted 300 protesters and an online petition attracted more than 10,000 signatures. Local media has been highly supportive of the plight of local workers but the message needs to get through to lawmakers.
That’s why the crew of the MV Portland have come to Canberra this week to speak directly to members of Parliament about our plight. I would like to than the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee for hearing our story.
We’re angry about the conduct of United-States-based miner Alcoa and the Turnbull government, which 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. This domestic trade will continue, and so-far all of the replacement ships used by Alcoa have been sub-standard, for differing reasons. The Senate has spoken, knocking back the Government’s deregulation agenda in November last year.
Unperturbed, Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Warren Truss intends to bring it back early this year.
Shame on him.
The Turnbull Government needs to be reminded that Australian jobs are important – me and my fellow workers have families, kids, mortgages and bills to pay.
Our dispute was never with the town of Portland that our ship proudly called home. That’s why agreed to move the vessel as required during the dispute to allow for cruise ships to visit the port and its passengers to contribute to the local economy.
Despite what our opponents have claimed, we were never interested in preventing these cruise ships from visiting the port.
Our dispute is about the right for Australians to work in their own country and not be replaced by foreign-crewed vessels paying as little as $2 an hour. We have been fighting Alcoa because they sacked nearly 40 Australian seafarers and removed a national-flagged ship from service without adequate explanation and contrary to a recent decision by the Australian Parliament.
The company is also the long-term recipient of a subsidy from the Victorian State Government that runs into tens of millions of dollars a year. It might even be $100 million but no-one knows as the numbers aren’t made public.
The work hasn’t dried up. Alcoa intends to continue this trade on foreign-flagged ships with a foreign crew being paid as little as $2-an-hour, supported by the Turnbull Government which wants to open up the Australian coast to cheap, nasty, risky shipping.
The company received a temporary licence from the Federal Government in October but the Senate then voted in November to maintain cabotage provisions, which means that ships trading through domestic ports should be Australian flagged and crewed. The goalposts have shifted and the licence should be cancelled.
Ultimately, we are just Australian workers in an Australian industry. We have worked this dangerous and security-sensitive job for 27 years with professionalism and distinction. We have families and mortgages. We pay tax and contribute to local businesses.
The shipping task remains but Alcoa and the Turnbull Government tried to throw us and our families on the scrap heap at Christmas. We have been replaced by exploited foreign crew and the Flag-of-Convenience ships owned by companies that pay no tax and operate out of places such as Liberia, Mongolia and Panama.
I am proud to be Australian. But what happened to the crew of the MV Portland and now the CSL Melbourne is un-Australian. Australians have been removed from their rightful place of work, and their removal has been sanctioned and approved by this Government. The hard-working people of Australia deserve better.
If it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone in this country. It’s time to take a stand. We’ll keep up the fight for Australian jobs with decent pay and conditions.