International Unions Keeping Close Watch on Australia’s MV Portland Dispute

The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and its affiliated unions are keeping a close eye on the MV Portland dispute in south-eastern Australia, with key international unions now backing the local campaign to protect jobs.

ITF affiliate the MUA (Maritime Union of Australia) has been in dispute with Alcoa for nearly two months over the global miner’s plan to sack 40 local seafarers, sell their ship after 27 years of continuous service, and replace them with cheap, exploited foreign labour on board flag-of-convenience (FOC) vessels.

The MV Portland has moved to anchor ahead of the arrival on Thursday of the P&O cruise liner Pacific Jewel. All parties have agreed have agreed that the MV Portland can return to the port on the day after the Pacific Jewel’s visit.

The influential Nautilus International, which represents officers and seafarers in Great Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands, has members on board the UK-registered Pacific Jewel

Nautilus International General Secretary Mark Dickinson, who is based in Great Britain, today said his union supports the plight of the MV Portland workers.

“We have been closely following the developments arising from the move by Alcoa to use a foreign-crewed ship in place of the MV Portland,” Mr Dickinson said. 

“Nautilus pays tribute to the high level of cooperation displayed by the MV Portland’s crew in working around the dispute to facilitate the visit of the Pacific Jewel into the port of Portland. 

“The issues surrounding this case have immense resonance on this side of the world, as we have witnessed a long-term decline of our coastal shipping fleet as a consequence of the ‘open coast’ policies pursued by governments and the failure of measures to support our national shipping.

“We support the campaign to uphold safety and security in Australian waters by opposing the increased use of often substandard and low-cost flag-of-convenience shipping. 

“We are appalled by the actions of Alcoa as well as the Australian Government’s lack of progressive shipping policies in favour of the lowest common denominator approach.”

Alcoa has been allowed to make these plans due to the granting of a ‘temporary licence’ from the conservative Australian government, whose policy it is to deregulate the local shipping industry. 

ITF President Paddy Crumlin said: “The ITF and international unions continue to show their solidarity with the workers on the front line at Portland because if it can happen to them it can happen to any of us.

“It beggars belief that the company and the Government have allowed this to develop, rather than show leadership and find a mutually agreeable solution to protect local jobs. 

“The Australian Senate has so-far rightly blocked the Government’s deregulation agenda with the Government’s own figures saying this would result in more than 1,000 direct job losses. 

“The combination of corporate greed, complicit governments and the flag-of-convenience system - which encourages international tax avoidance and exploitative employment standards – will ultimately hurt the local community and economy.”