Australian Seafarers Rally Against Rio Tinto
Approximately 50 Australian Maritime Unionists held a rally outside of the Tomago Smelter on Thursday demanding a meeting with Pacific Aluminium’s chief executive, Matt Howell, for his complicity in sacking Australian workers and replacing them with developing world workers, paid as little as $2 an hour.
In February the crew of the Pacific Aluminium-chartered CSL Melbourne was removed from the vessel by around 30 police officers.
The ship had been berthed in Newcastle following a dispute with the crew after the company applied for a special license from the Federal Government, which allowed them to sack the Australian seafarers in a move that the union says contravenes Australian labor, safety and wage laws.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Newcastle Branch Secretary Glen Williams said Pacific Aluminium was a profitable subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto and as a result did not have a valid business case for sacking its local workers.
“Rio Tinto are right now claiming bad times, poor commodity prices, etcetera but that didn’t stop them paying the same dividend to shareholders that they did the year before,” Williams said.
“They say they can’t afford Australian workers on Australian wages, yet Alfred Barrios - the global CEO of Aluminium - pocketed $3.6 million in wages, and because of their generous decision to pay out US$2.15 per share, he made another $300,000.
“But apparently one Alfred Barrios is worth more than 40 Australian seafarers, who are now faced with long-term unemployment because of an ever-shrinking industry.
“We decided that was not on, so we took our distaste for this ever-pervasive inequality straight to the source, and we’ll continue to do so until Pacific Aluminium and their parent company Rio Tinto play fair.”
The rally coincided with Rio Tinto’s Annual General Meeting in Brisbane, where the MUA’s Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith was in attendance.
Smith attended the meeting to try and get answers about Rio’s knowledge of the CSL Melbourne raid. “Why is Rio Tinto replacing Australian seafarers with highly exploited foreign labor to the complete disregard of local jobs, national security and environmental risk?” he asked.
“The shipping task has not reduced, with approximately one million tons of alumina still coming into Newcastle.”
He also asked about Rio Tinto’s ongoing commitment to Australian jobs but he was not given an appropriate response.
“It was fobbed off with bland rhetoric and irrelevant information,” he said.
The MUA also held rallies in January this year.