Thursday, September 10, 2020

Maritime Union Wants Fairer Treatment for Native Crews and Vessel Owners

Pandemic Has Highlighted Supply Chain Problems
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – The Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened the case to reduce dependence on overseas shipping interests according to the Maritime Union of Australia. The organisation has long pressed for legislation offering something similar to the US Jones Act standards, originally introduced post WW1, and still in place today.

Addressing a public hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport inquiry into Australian shipping, national secretary Paddy Crumlin outlined the case for major industry reform, recommending a range of urgent steps to improve the sustainability and resilience of the sector.

This comprehensive list took into account a variety of newsworthy matters, from the pandemic itself to the recent horrific explosion in Beirut. Mr Crumlin said urgent reform was required of the maritime crew visa system for foreign seafarers, including limitations on the length of time these can remain in Australian waters, as well as addressing the dysfunctional and inadequate dual system of qualifications currently in place for Australian seafarers.

He pointed out the dangers of allowing a dependence on foreign shipping, particularly for essential goods and high-risk cargoes like ammonium nitrate, and the necessity to strengthen the Coastal Trading Act to ensure that it actually supports Australian vessels, ‘following years of decline under the Liberals’.

Mr Crumlin pointed out the new technologies such as in the transition to renewable energy and the rebuilding of local manufacturing industries, offered chances to take advantage of emerging opportunities for the Australian fleet, continuing:

“Australia was caught unprepared for the Covid-19 pandemic, with this global crisis highlighting the urgent need to reduce Australia’s dependency of foreign shipping in both domestic and international trade. The need for secure and resilient supply chains is fundamentally incompatible with the country’s current reliance on foreign ships operating under temporary licences around our coast.

“Recent cases, such as the detention of the Unison Jasper in Newcastle over the mistreatment of seafarers, reinforce the urgent need to reform this licensing system. Sustainable shipping policy is critical not only for the domestic maritime industry, but the many Australian industries that depend on it, such as steel, aluminium, construction, retailing, oil refining, tourism and agriculture.”

“As we move towards the recovery phase from the Covid-19 crisis, one of the most vital steps to strengthen the resilience of Australia’s supply chains is to ensure our island nation has a merchant shipping fleet crewed with Australian seafarers. This requires the creation of a national strategic fleet of fuel tankers and large trading vessels, to ensure that we have access to vessels to carry the essential goods we rely on, in Australia, and internationally.

“By making needed amendments to the Coastal Trading Act, restoring its original design intention, along with getting the tax incentives right, local ship owners will be able invest with confidence in a core Australian fleet. This regulatory reform is also vital to support a domestic cruise sector, in a way that is sustainable and improves the economic and social benefits to the country. The international cruise industry operating from Australian ports employed almost no Australians, severely mistreated its international crew, and has truly lost its social licence to operate here.

“The current system has created a dysfunctional and inadequate dual system of qualifications for Australian seafarers. An appropriate balance needs to be restored between the ships that should be covered by the Navigation Act, where seafarers are required to hold internationally recognised qualifications, and the qualifications and standards for Domestic Commercial Vessels under the National Law. The regulation of safety, crewing, training and qualifications on domestic commercial vessels must be improved.

“The development of a maritime workforce development forum is also needed to address the skills and qualifications issues facing the sector, ensuring Australia maintains a highly skilled and qualified maritime skills pool.”

Mr Crumlin said it was imperative that the inquiry’s final report, due to be released by December, set the foundations for government, industry and stakeholder actions that revive and grow Australian shipping.