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Issue #1786      July 19, 2017

Ocean-going political stoush

On the July 4 the Canadian Steamship Line notified the Maritime Union of Australia that the CSL Thevenard would be leaving the coast and not returning to its trade as had been committed to by the company. This crushing blow to the industry and workers is part of the ongoing and systematic political and economic attack on Australian shipping.

The CSL Thevenard has left the coast for the very same reasons as we have seen other Australian crewed vessels leave. The ease with which a Temporary Licence is available to shippers and ship owner’s beggars’ belief, says the union.

The bottom line is that since the Federal Court ruled that freight rates are a viable basis for the issuance of Temporary Licences, after CSL’s abortive Federal Court challenge around the primacy of General Licence ships, the opportunity for the big bulk commodity shippers and shipping companies has been to choose the easy and cheaper shipping path that was laid out for them by the court and government policy settings.

This has led to massive open competition, which never advantages the worker, and a consequential reduction in general freight rates.

The MUA says that the fact there is an Australian industry policy determined by the courts on the basis of maximising profits for shippers and ship owners speaks volumes about the Turnbull government’s commitment to maintaining national economic control of Australian shipping. The Turnbull government  prefers this approach because their corporate masters demand a position that maximises profits regardless of the fact that the wealth created in these operations invariably flows offshore into the pockets of foreign multi-nationals.

The MUA has identified to CSL that one of the major issues is the ability of workers from the CSL Thevenard to be transferred to either the Donnacona or the CSL Whyalla.

The company have committed to defer the redundancy process until after the meeting with the global CEO on July 20. A range of matters need to be sorted out with CSL and the union is using whatever influence we have to prosecute these arguments within the company.

The MUA has raised the issue of who will be targeted for a redundancy from the Thevenard. It is unfair and even discriminatory that only Australian ratings (MUA members) receive redundancy while CSL’s host of imported Visa workers are immune from any downturn in shipping. This must be addressed.

The union is also raising this issue of the Thevenard and the general state of the shipping industry with cross-benchers and industry bodies advocating the requirement for a political and legislative fix of shipping laws that promote the primacy of General Licenced shipping.

The MUA will be conducting inspections of CSL’s operations in Cape Preston at the Citic site and on the CSL Whyalla. Working conditions aboard the Donnacona and CSL Whyalla are reportedly very poor with a range of health and safety issues that need attention as well as general conditions of work.

The union’s immediate goals with CSL are to see the workers from the CSL Thevenard transferred to other operations that are also covered by MUA agreements. Further to this it is seeking agreement from the company on a system that ties CSL into utilising General Licence vessels with MUA crews and that any flag of convenience usage is based on averaging out the freight rates to ensure that Australian seafarers remain viably in work on the coast.

The longer-term fix is being addressed through the multitude of actions emanating from the union’s shipping campaign which aims to reconstruct the regulatory and legislative environment for Australian shipping to flourish and grow. This is ultimately a political battle which the MUA will not shy away from.

Next article – “Ten years too long” – “Stop the Intervention!”

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