Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lots on the Union Agenda with Oil Tanker Crews, LNG Port of Convenience and HIV/AIDS

Troubles in the Southern Hemisphere in the Sights for the ITF this Month
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – AUSTRALIA – NEW ZEALAND – The work never stops for those at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) with a varied menu this month of items in urgent need of discussion. First on the agenda is a health issue where an ITF survey on HIV/AIDS and wellbeing in general among seafarers, has revealed an astounding level of ignorance. Despite all the work that has gone into education about HIV/AIDS, many myths about its transmission remain, including in one labour supplying country where only 17% of respondents believed condoms are effective in preventing it, and 46% believe it can be spread in food and drink.

Other major findings came in response to the questions about general wellbeing, with many of those quizzed reporting worries about weight, depression and alcohol use. On average half of them were worried about their weight, while almost 60% experience back/joint pain at work. In one labour supplying country 75% know workmates who are depressed.

The new report follows similar ITF surveys in the civil aviation and ports sectors, but for the first time includes questions on general health and wellbeing, so as to achieve a holistic overview of seafarers needs and concerns, and in order to ‘normalise’ HIV/AIDS as something within the broader health context, rather than a cause of stigma and fear. ITF maritime coordinator Jacqueline Smith explained:

“We believe this is the most exhaustive current investigation into this subject, and we offer its findings to everyone concerned with the welfare of seafarers. We carried out this research to identify the needs and concerns of seafarers, and to show us how we can best address them within the ITF’s longstanding and pioneering HIV/AIDS programme. The results speak for themselves, and we will, with the agreement of the ITF seafarers’ section which sponsored this survey, plan a comprehensive programme of action accordingly.”

The next two matters drawing ITF attention are more their normal food and drink, particularly as they revolve around the Southern hemisphere, the home ground of the ITF’s president Paddy Crumlin, never a man to understate the union case. Mr Crumlin’s latest target is oil goliath Chevron which the ITF accuses of mismanagement and a policy of disinformation whilst undermining workers’ rights and exploiting both Australian and foreign labour in its search for increased profits.

This week the campaign stepped up a notch when the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) joined the ITF and held a protest rally outside the New Zealand consulate in Perth on May 12. Chevron are a new entrant into the New Zealand oil and gas industry and it was recently awarded three offshore exploration permits in the Pegasus Basin, in partnership with StatOil.

Chevron is the operator of Australia’s largest LNG (liquified natural gas) project Gorgon, on the remote northern coast of Western Australia, which the unions say has disappointed local communities by failing to meet commitments for local jobs and to local businesses, poor safety and other conditions for workers, massive cost overruns and project mismanagement in its construction phase.

Mr Crumlin, who is also National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), accuses Chevron of misleading the public over the huge jump in costs to the Chevron Gorgon LNG project which he says has been wrongly blamed on the unions. He says costs for the scheme have leapt from the initial US$37 billion to US$54 billion due to ‘the company’s ongoing mismanagement’. The ITF has now declared the LNG loading port of Barrow Island a Port of Convenience calling on support where possible to take action against vessels sailing from there after Mr Crumlin said:

“Chevron continues to seek to exclude my union scheme from an Australian island to export natural gas which belongs to all Australians. We have made attempts to reach out to Chevron on many occasions, we travelled to their shareholder meeting in Midland, Texas, last year. It was there the MUA received an assurance from Chevron chief executive John Watson that unions were not to blame for cost blowouts on the Gorgon project.

“Mr Watson said he had ‘no intention of blaming organised labour for cost overruns or delays at Gorgon’, yet Chevron’s only meaningful response to date has been to sue the MUA for more than $20 million for nothing more than workers on the job ensuring that occupational health and safety standards are met. Employers need to clearly decide whether they want to work with unions, and we’ll be there, or against unions, and we’ll be there as well.

“The ITF stands in solidarity with Chevron workers seeking to join a union and collectively bargain and demands that Chevron cease its union-busting against the MUA and commits to entering into a long term and functional relationship with the MUA that respects Australian workers’ rights, wages and conditions and the MUA’s right to represent them.

“The ITF declares Barrow Island, an island 50 kilometres northwest off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia, a Port of Convenience (POC) when the first shipment of LNG leaves the island, and calls on all affiliates to request any company or operator that has an interaction with the designated Port of Convenience to review their existing contractual relationships/arrangements with this port, and to provide active solidarity support to the MUA and its members by any and all available lawful means."

The latest protest in New Zealand represents an escalation of action, with a letter presented to the Consulate for the New Zealand Government detailing the workers concerns at the way Chevron operates. Maritime Union of New Zealand National Secretary Joe Fleetwood said his members would not support companies that have a bad environmental record and anti-worker agenda entering the industry and commented that, as with Australia, the natural resources of New Zealand must be used to the benefit of New Zealand workers and the people of New Zealand, not simply to boost profits for multinational operators.

Staying ‘Down Under’ the ITF says it has thrown its support behind the ongoing campaign to boost Australia’s fuel security and protect jobs onboard the BP oil tanker British Loyalty. The unions claim that BP is laying off the fuel tanker’s 36 Australian crew and replacing them with ‘cheap foreign operators who pay their crew as little as $2 an hour’. The complaint comes at a time when the ITF says BP is closing Bulwer Island, one of the Australian east coast’s main local suppliers of fuel with the subsequent loss of 360 jobs.

According to Mr Crumlin the Australian tanker fleet is in crisis with the loss of three ships in the past six months and this latest move leaves Australia dangerously reliant on foreign suppliers as the country stocks less than 3 weeks worth of fuel, while service stations hold only 7 days supply. He continues:

"Australia’s reliance on shipping for its supply of petroleum is increasing and therefore Australia needs more ships like the British Loyalty, which has an outstanding safety and service record. Despite this the crew on British Loyalty were notified in late 2014 that they would be removed from the ship and the ship would be re-deployed internationally.

“Around 900,000 tons of refined product is currently being moved from Kwinana Refinery in Western Australia to Australia’s east coast each year on foreign vessels, this is more than enough to keep the British Loyalty working the coast and keep fuel supply in Australian hands so we call on BP to redeploy the vessel.”

United States Seafarers International Union (SIU) Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, who is also chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, said the recent five-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, which involved BP, was a timely reminder that corporations need to employ best practice when it comes to protecting the environment. He continued:

"The Gulf of Mexico disaster taught us that you can’t cut corners to save a few pennies, instead, you want the best qualified, best trained professionals aboard your vessels. The British Loyalty has often sailed along the Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the world’s great nature reserves and this pristine environment simply could not be replaced if a disaster occurred."