Monday, October 22, 2018

International Transport Unions Declare Container Terminal a 'Port of Convenience'

ITF Says Conditions at Box Handling Facility are Unsafe and Unacceptable
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – Anyone even remotely connected with the shipping industry understands the term Flag of Convenience. The expression has an inbuilt bias, bringing either thoughts of thriftiness from shrewd ship owners or lamentable safety standards and bypassing of labour regulations dependant on your standpoint. Now a new term has crept in to the logistics vocabulary, 'Port of Convenience', and the latest container handling facility condemned as such by transport unions is located in the Melbourne port.

Coining such a phrase may not be strictly contextually accurate, but it demonstrates the scorn which the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which coined the expression, holds for the port operator in question, Philippine headquartered International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) which manages the Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) at Melbourne’s Webb Dock.

VICT is not the first facility to get the metaphorical black spot from the ITF, both the Ports of Auckland and Port of Oslo have been declared Ports of Convenience and the ITF tells us the term is more complex than that of Flag of Convenience for which the ITF has long had a clear definition in regards to what can be declared as such.

The factors contributing to this specific condemnation of a facility which can be taken into account include the undercutting of industry standards, ‘union busting’, the use by the port of cargo handling by seafarers or non-registered/non-union casual labour, which the ITF says causes ‘social dumping’ and non-adherence to International Labour Organization (ILO) core labour standards as well as industry specific ILO Conventions.

The ITF-affiliated Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says it has been campaigning against the Philippine-based multinational port operator ICTSI over the significant undercutting of rates, conditions and industry standards on the Australian waterfront; the shifting of automated port jobs to the Philippines and poor safety standards at the VICT terminal. The VICT is also currently facing legal action over the unlawful sacking of a union delegate and paying wages that undercut the legal minimum wages under the industry award.

Critics will point out that ITF president Paddy Crumlin has been particularly vehement in his criticism of this case as he also holds the post of national secretary of the MUA. The decision to declare VICT as a Port of Convenience was taken by the ITF at its 44th Congress in Singapore, and Mr Crumlin declared:

“It is a big step to declare a Port of Convenience but the VICT continues to ignore the entirely justified concerns of its workforce over their safety and shift arrangements. All maritime affiliates are now considering what lawful action may be required to give effect to the campaign. Globally, ICTSI’s workers are underpaid and overworked, harassed and coerced, and union members often face intimidation in retaliation for raising workplace issues. ICTSI has tried to bring its anti-worker business model, that they have run out all over the world, to Australia and we won’t tolerate it.”

Further criticism came from MUA deputy national secretary Will Tracey who said two workers at the VICT terminal were recently hospitalised, and the entire workforce is now fearing more serious accidents following the recent introduction of dramatically increased working hours, continuing:

“This workplace is unsafe, and threatens the standards that union activists over generations have built up. The transferring of automated jobs offshore is something the MUA will fight with all our resources and all the resources of the Australian trade union movement. The MUA thanks the ITF and our brothers and sisters in the international trade union movement for their support in taking this step and declaring the VICT a Port of Convenience. Hopefully, this step can ramp up pressure on the company to intervene immediately before a worker is killed or seriously injured.”