The ITF held its first ever cabotage conference in Cape Town, South Africa, this month, with ITF President Paddy Crumlin saying many countries face similar battles against multinational businesses and conservative governments.
Crumlin, who is also Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary, said the current fight against temporary licenses in Australia is similar to the circumstances faced by domestic unions around the world.
“Australia is not alone in copping the blunt end of a conservative government stick,” Crumlin said. “Many nations have the same problems with seafarers being unable to find work in their own country due to the increased use of flag of convenience vessels.
“These flag of convenience vessels are allowed to get around cabotage laws by governments issuing waivers and in Australia’s case, temporary licenses.”
The ITF flag of convenience campaign aims to brings vessels with collective bargaining agreements up to a minimum standard which Crumlin says helps to close the gap. “Without this campaign there would be no minimum standard and national flag ships would never be able to compete.”
ITF agreements also contain provisions to prevent flag of convenience seafarers performing wharfies’ work.
The shipping industry will not flourish on the basis of workers being forced into a race to the bottom competing with the most exploited workers in the world, says Crumlin. 136 countries around the globe have cabotage provisions, and most of them are under some kind of attack.
From ideological reasons to openly undermine provisions to the constant monitoring and lobbying to ensure the U.S. Jones Act remains, everyone is in a fight, he says. “On top of that, you have free trade agreements that mean cabotage stands in the way of multinational corporations and their business interests.”
In Australia, Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester has released a discussion paper and aims to introduce new legislation covering coastal shipping later this year.
"Australia has a very strict cabotage regime for aviation where foreign companies can't just come here and operate on domestic routes, but there has been a very liberal approach to cabotage for the maritime sector," Crumlin said recently.
“Without strong rules, Australian companies have to compete with cheap, exploited foreign labor, without adequate criminal checks, on flag-of-convenience vessels, the owners of which pay no tax and often flout safety laws.”
Crumlin cited Canadian Government’s settlement in February with the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada over breaches of the temporary foreign worker program that will lead to hundreds of jobs for Canadian seafarers in their domestic trade.
Earlier this year, the U.K. Government said it was preparing to defend its maritime industry against the rise of cheap foreign shipping that threatens to price British seafarers out of the North Sea.
“The global trend among governments is to be more introspective and geared towards protecting local industries and jobs,” Crumlin said. “Australian jobs in coastal shipping should be a no brainer – whether you look at it with respect to local jobs, national security, fuel security or protecting the environment.”
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.