Ship out WorkChoices

Published: 9 Apr 2009

The union brokered a deal, but the company reneged bringing the vessel back onto the coast as the Stadacona flying the Bahamas flag with a Ukrainian crew.

A year later the company and the maritime unions were back in court. In a major blow to foreign shipping and the Howard government, the High Court ruled that the Australian Industrial Relations Commission had jurisdiction over foreign ships and crew carrying Australian domestic cargo on our coast.



Maritime unions (MUA, AIMPE and AMOU) and the ACTU successfully argued that CSL was undermining the jobs of Australian maritime workers and ultimately Australian rail and road transport workers by flagging out two former Australian vessels in the Bahamas, replacing the crew with Ukrainian seafarers on wages and conditions below Australian standards and bringing the ships back to work on the coast.

The court ruling spelt out that irrespective of what flag a ship flies, what nationality the crew is or what country the shipping company or employer is based in, if the ship is in the Australian coastal trade it comes under the jurisdiction of the AIRC.

"The extraordinary thing is that the Australian government, who intervened in the case, chose to support foreign ship owners not

Australian workers,” said union lawyer Bill McNally.
And so when the Howard government was reelected with an overall majority in both houses in 2004, one of the first things it did was introduce anti-worker legislation, Workchoices, which also overturned the High Court decision.

The Rudd Labor government is now overturning WorkChoices and it has been the union’s mission to ensure the High Court decision is restored. Foreign vessels working in Australia’s domestic coastal trade must come under an award.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin spoke in support of the union’s submission against WorkChoices’ impact on coastal shipping at the Senate inquiry into the Labor government’s Fair Work Bill in Canberra on February 19.
“Australian ships should not be required to compete with international ships paying and applying inferior international wages and

conditions in trade and commerce between the states,” he said. “This is not permitted in any other industry and there is no justification for it to be the case in the domestic freight industry.

Our principal reasoning for a requirement for the coverage as proposed rests on the requirement that the Fair Work Act provide for the regulation of wages and conditions of the employment of seafarers carrying goods between Australian ports for and on behalf of Australian shippers.” said Paddy Crumlin. “The principle would ensure there is harmony between the objects of the Navigation Act and the Australian workplace laws.”

Not surprisingly CSL and the Bulk Commodities Group opposed the union application.

Safety net

On February 27, the Senate Committee responded positively to the union submission recommending the government ensure a decent safety net of employment conditions for workers engaged in the coastal trade.

The members of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations who participated in the hearing were:

ALP – Senators Gavin Marshall (chair), Jacinta Collins, Doug Cameron, Steve Hutchins, Mike Forshaw.
Liberal Party – Garry Humphries (deputy chair), Mary Jo Fisher, Michaelia Cash.

The Union has a commitment from the government to introduce coastal shipping regulations. A transcript of the hearings can be downloaded below.