Australian Seafarers to be Removed from Two Ships

The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

By The Maritime Executive 01-23-2019 07:09:16

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has expressed opposition to a decision by BHP and Bluescope to remove Australian crew from two vessels that carried iron ore from Port Hedland in Western Australia to steelworks in Port Kembla and to China.

The decision would see around 80 Australian seafarers lose their jobs. “For over 100 years, Australian crew have serviced the iron ore trade between Port Hedland and Australia’s steel makers. BHP’s decision destroys one of the oldest national domestic shipping supply chains in Australia,” said ITF Seafarers’ Section chair Dave Heindel.

The decision affects the crews of the MV Mariloula and the MV Lowlands Brilliance. “It is disturbing that BHP has initiated this action six months before the expiry of the charter, with next to no notice to the unions. The ITF condemns the move and calls on BHP to reverse this decision,” Heindel said.

The ITF supports Australian cabotage arrangements and the right of Australians seafarers to work in the domestic trade employed under Australian conditions. James Given, chair of the ITF’s cabotage task force said: “The ITF has consistently opposed the alarming use of legal loopholes to circumvent national legislation that is intended to secure the rights of Australian seafarers and their entitlements in Australia’s domestic shipping trade.”

Local Labor MPs have called on the Government to prevent the loss of the jobs by not issuing temporary licenses for any replacement ships that don’t have Australian crews under Australian conditions on the leg between Port Hedland and Port Kembla.

Steelworkers at BlueScope Steel in Port Kembla have also voiced their solidarity. The steelworkers are represented by the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU). “AWU members at BlueScope call for the reinstatement of Australian iron ore vessels crewed by Australian seafarers that have carried raw materials to Port Kembla for over 100 years. That those Australian seafarers were informed that they were to be dumped from their workplaces without notice and on an international voyage is a disgrace by the Big Australian BHP and Bluescope. The AWU condemns the replacement of these Australian workers with highly exploited foreign seafarers on Australian work visas to replace them in an Australian national transport industry.”

The Financial Review cites Rod Nairn, CEO of industry group Shipping Australia, saying: "It's sad to see the demise of Australian flag international shipping but it's inevitable as our labor costs are just too high.

“Shipping is a service. It brings imports to Australia and takes our exports overseas to earn revenue, we can't live without it. But it's a highly competitive international business, and if you can't be competitive internationally then you just can't survive.”

BlueScope has reportedly claimed that the decision was made so local manufacturing operations employing 6,500 Australians could remain viable. The company announced a net profit of over A$1.5 billion for the 2018 financial year, a 119 percent or $853.2 million increase on FY2017.