Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bulk Freight Vessel Dispute Continues Down Under

Union Eyes on Flag of Convenience Plans
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – The dispute over the MV Portland which we wrote of in November is still on-going, with the situation being closely watched by union groups both in Australia and around the world. The US owned corporation, Alcoa, has plans to scrap the aluminium carrier and dismiss the 40 strong crew of local seafarers and replace the bulk freight vessel with a ship sailing under a flag of convenience and manned by lower cost foreign labour, something prohibited in the US under the terms of the Jones Act.

The MV Portland has served the domestic route for twenty seven years and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) says Alcoa has only been allowed to make these plans due to the granting of a ‘temporary licence’ from the conservative Australian government, whose policy they say it is to deregulate the local shipping industry. ITF President Paddy Crumlin said:

“The ITF and international unions continue to show their solidarity with the workers on the front line at [the port of] Portland because if it can happen to them it can happen to any of us. It beggars belief that the company and the Government have allowed this to develop, rather than show leadership and find a mutually agreeable solution to protect local jobs.

“The Australian Senate has so-far rightly blocked the Government’s deregulation agenda with the Government’s own figures saying this would result in more than 1,000 direct job losses. The combination of corporate greed, complicit governments and the flag-of-convenience system, which encourages international tax avoidance and exploitative employment standards, will ultimately hurt the local community and economy.”

The MV Portland has recently moved to anchor ahead of the arrival of the P&O cruise liner Pacific Jewel. All parties have agreed have agreed that the bulk carrier can return to the port on the day after the cruise ships visit. The Nautilus International union, which represents officers and seafarers in Great Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands, has members on board the UK-registered Pacific Jewel and General Secretary Mark Dickinson, speaking from the UK, fully supported the Australian workers, saying:

“We have been closely following the developments arising from the move by Alcoa to use a foreign-crewed ship in place of the MV Portland. Nautilus pays tribute to the high level of cooperation displayed by the MV Portland’s crew in working around the dispute to facilitate the visit of the Pacific Jewel into the port of Portland.

“The issues surrounding this case have immense resonance on this side of the world, as we have witnessed a long-term decline of our coastal shipping fleet as a consequence of the ‘open coast’ policies pursued by governments and the failure of measures to support our national shipping.

“We support the campaign to uphold safety and security in Australian waters by opposing the increased use of often substandard and low-cost flag-of-convenience shipping. We are appalled by the actions of Alcoa as well as the Australian Government’s lack of progressive shipping policies in favour of the lowest common denominator approach.”

In better news for Australian transport workers, in the run up to Christmas the country’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal ruled that drivers must be paid for time spent waiting at depots, loading and unloading and for the time it takes to clean, inspect and service their trucks and trailers.

It has been argued that the lack of remuneration for such simple tasks has meant that in some cases maintenance has been skimped causing unsafe vehicles to be on the road and contributing to the 300 or so deaths in truck related incidents which occur each year.