[Correction] Australian Seafarers Want Jobs

MUA Rio Tinto Protest
MUA Rio Tinto Protest

By The Maritime Executive 03-19-2018 06:23:51

CORRECTION: The Maritime Executive sincerely regrets using an image of the CSL Melbourne in an earlier version of this article.

Members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) have protested out the front of the headquarters of mining giant Rio Tinto. The protesters say the company continues to mine and refine Bauxite in Queensland and is employing mostly foreign seafarers paid $4 an hour when shipping it locally, to New South Wales.

The MUA believes that Aussie seafarers should be employed in these jobs under decent pay and conditions. MUA Queensland Branch Secretary Bob Carnegie read out a letter to Rio Tinto chief executive Peter Manion:

"This demonstration held today by Maritime Union of Australia Queensland Branch members and their supporters, call upon Rio Tinto to engage immediately with the Maritime Union of Australia Queensland branch and the Maritime Union of Australia National office to implement the standard of the 2010 MOU between Rio Tinto and our union. Australian merchant seafarers demand and expect to have the right to work in their own country, respected and acknowledged by employment on the vessels Rio Tinto owns and operates on the Australian coast. 

"Our resolve is strong and if necessary we will engage Rio Tinto in a long tortuous public debate about how the second largest mining house in the world justifies employing foreign nationals at a pittance whilst skilled Australian merchant seafarers are forced onto the dole, selling their homes and feeling left out of this life (of which we only have one) whilst Rio Tinto pulls in $8 billion dollars in profits per year.”

Local media reported that Carnegie emphasized to the crowd that the MUA protest was not against people from other nations. "One of the things that we're most proud of in the MUA is that we're an internationalist based organization and an injury to one worker anywhere in the world is an injury to all workers everywhere in the world,” Carnegie said.

Australia has cabotage laws which cover trade through domestic ports and the use of both Australian-flagged and Australian-crewed vessels. The Australian senate voted in November 2015 to retain these laws, yet the government has pushed ahead with issuing temporary licenses which allow the use of foreign crews.

The MUA has been protesting about the subsequent loss of jobs for Australian seafarers since that time. One case, in January 2016, saw five seafarers woken up at 1am and marched off the Alcoa-owned MV Portland. They claim that 30 security guards intimidated them into leaving the vessel they had occupied during a 60-day labor dispute. They had been told by Alcoa that they were to sail the vessel to Singapore, where they would be sacked. The seafarers were no longer required, because the government had issued Alcoa a temporary license that enabled them to use a foreign-flagged and crewed vessel as a replacement.

CORRECTION: The Maritime Executive sincerely regrets using an image of the CSL Melbourne in an earlier version of this article.