Thursday, March 4, 2021

Container Terminal Operators and Unions Point Out Flaws in Covid Control Regulations

Mandatory Testing Should Extend to Those Most Likely Infected
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – While it is a fact that the number of Covid-19 cases in the country remains small when compared to elsewhere, just 29,000 recorded compared to 4.19 million in the UK at the time of writing, the state of Victoria has seen over 70% (25,500) of these and 91% of overall deaths, 820 out of 909 nationwide.

Now the Maritime Union of Australia is pointing out what it sees as flaws in the Victorian Government’s recent introduction of mandatory Covid testing for maritime port of entry workers. The new policy, the first state or territory to implement such, requires wharfies and other workers at ports of entry be tested every seven days.

The MUA points out however that there is no requirement for seafarers’ on board vessels arriving from international ports to be tested and now both the MUA, and it says unnamed container terminal operators, have made representations to the Victorian Government warning of flaws in the approach and highlighting the negative impacts on the industry. MUA Victoria Deputy Branch Secretary David Ball said the Victorian Government had correctly identified the significant Covid transmission risk posed by maritime arrivals, but was testing the wrong people, saying:

“Testing waterfront workers 7 days after boarding a vessel, rather than the international seafarers arriving from foreign ports, is like breathalysing the barman instead of the drink driver. Once Australian maritime workers have been infected with Covid, it is already too late, with those workers potentially spreading this virus to family, friends, co-workers, and the broader community.

“The union is not opposed to testing on the waterfront for frontline workers who might be exposed to a known infection, but what is needed is nationally-consistent, robust screening of all international seafarers arriving in Australian ports, ensuring positive Covid cases are identified before Australian workers are exposed.

“If testing all international airline arrivals is possible, then there is no reason the same model can’t be implemented for the international shipping industry. By testing international seafarers on arrival, appropriate medical treatment can also be made available while the vessel is in port, protecting the health, welfare and safety of all these workers who play a vital role in Australia’s maritime supply chains.

“Along with employers, we’ve also highlighted significant flaws in the implementation of this directive, including a lack of clarity about where workers can get tested, out of pocket expenses in some cases, and the impact on port productivity as hundreds of workers go off to be tested.”

MUA Assistant National Secretary Adrian Evans concurred saying the Victorian Government directive confirmed the union’s repeated warnings that vessels arriving from overseas ports pose a significant infection risk to the Australian community, and explained:

“The fundamental principle of risk management is to apply controls at the source. Australian wharfies and port workers are not the source of Covid infections. Our members have been on the front line since the first outbreak, putting strong infection controls in place to guarantee the continuous supply of goods through our ports to the Australian community.

“As a result, there has not been a single case of vessel to shore virus transmission in any Australian port due to the robust Covid protocols implemented across the industry. The current biosecurity system is fundamentally flawed, with a reliance on a ship’s captain, under incredible commercial pressure, in an industry infiltrated by criminality and exploitation, to declare that no one on the vessel is sick.

“The result has been ships frequently granted entry to Australian ports with seafarers on board who are infected with Covid, leaving it to Australian maritime workers to implement the controls to protect themselves and the community when they are required to go on board to load and discharge cargo. If the Victorian Government is serious about addressing the risk of Covid transmission from foreign ships crews they need to ensure all crew are tested and cleared, rather than having Australian workers exposed then tested after Covid has already passed into the community.

“They should also work with the Federal Government to ensure international seafarers have priority access to Covid vaccines, given their essential role in Australia’s maritime supply chains.”

THis is hardly the first run in that the MUA has had with politicians over guarding against the virus. Almost a year ago the union pointed out the dangers of container ships arriving from the Far East and in December a row over foreign crews, who later tested positive, resupplying the Austraian Antarctic mission.

To date the State of Victoria has processed more than 5 million Covid tests since the start of the pandemic with no new cases recorded from hotel quarantines in the past few days, and has reported just seven active cases in the state as of today.

Photo: Courtesy of covid19data.com.au