The crew of the MV Portland has prepared this letter to the editor of the Portland Observer in response to the one in the newspaper from the manager of the smelter, Peter Chellis on January 1:
Locals will have noticed that the MV Portland shifted to anchor outside the port on Monday. With the agreement of all parties, including Alcoa and the Port Authority chief executive, the MV Portland will return to the port once the cruise ship ‘Pacific Jewel’ has departed. This is a sensible outcome and a good result for local businesses and the community.
Our dispute has never been with the town of Portland that our ship proudly calls home. Our dispute is about the right for Australians to work in their own country, for Australian seafarers to work on ships around their own country and not be replaced by foreign-crewed vessels paying as little as $2 an hour.
We have been fighting Alcoa for nearly two months because they want to sack nearly 40 Australian seafarers and remove a national-flagged ship, the MV Portland, from service without adequate explanation and contrary to a recent decision by the Australian Parliament.
Alcoa Australia is a profitable company with a reported profit of $268 million last year and $44m in profit in the third quarter of this year alone.
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 ship 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 this company has tried to throw us and our families on the scrap heap at Christmas. They are replacing us with foreign crew working under much cheaper and exploitive wages who pay no tax and work for shipping companies that pay no tax.
If it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone in this country. Nearly 10,000 people have signed our online petition and we thank those who have signed from the bottom of our hearts. We look forward to the continued support from the Portland community and will keep up the fight for Aussie jobs at the community assembly.
The Crew of the MV Portland