The plight of 21 seafarers who have not been paid any wages for more than two months and are running short of food has been uncovered after their vessel docked in Gladstone.
The bulk carrier AOM Milena is currently being chartered by Rio Tinto to carry bauxite between mines in Weipa and Gove, and an aluminium refinery in Gladstone.
The vessel operates under the ‘flag of convenience’ system, where it is registered in a port far from where it operates, allowing it to avoid stricter local laws and regulations.
The AOM Milena has Japanese owners, is operated out of Portugal, is crewed solely by workers from the Philippines, and is registered in Panama, despite currently transporting bauxite between several Australian ports.
International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) national coordinator Dean Summers described the situation of the 21 crew as dire, saying that had received no wages since April, were running short on food supplies, and were being forced to live and work in filthy conditions.
“Not content to employ seafarers from poverty-riddled nations on wages that amount to just $2 per hour, the operator of this ship has not paid a single cent in wages to these crew members since April,” Mr Summers said.
“The food situation is equally dire, with the crew given just $50 per day to buy food for 21 people ahead of the next leg of their planned voyage, where they will sail to Weipa to collect a load of Bauxite for Rio Tinto.
“If Rio Tinto wanted to transport this bauxite by road or rail, they’d need to pay Australian minimum wages and adhere to Australian health and safety regulations, but because they transport it by sea they can avoid those requirements and slash costs.”
Mr Summers said the proposed changes to coastal shipping — introduced to the Federal Parliament by Transport Minister Warren Truss last month — would further deregulate the industry and allow the few remaining Australian-crewed vessels to be replaced by flag of convenience ships.
“On the same day this crew sailed into Gladstone, the second last Australian-crewed oil tanker was told to depart Devonport and head to Singapore, where the crew was to be replaced by exploited foreign workers on as little as $2 an hour,” he said.