Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Another Case of Seafarers Jobs Transferring to a Cheaper Flag of Convenience Option

Steel Shippers Decision to Cut Costs Has International Unions Riled
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – The question of who crews merchant ships is one which has become ever more prominent in the past few years. Of course vessels, often flagged far from their regular trading routes, are employed in the ultimate international business and for some countries such as the Philippines, employment on the container ships and bulk tankers which circle the globe, seamanship has long provided a route out of comparative poverty.

When however an established trade route with a large domestic element is involved, native crews have usually been employed for obvious reasons. They are close to home and, in the case of many, this means a more settled social life with all the benefits this brings. In the UK the RMT is currently pursuing ferry companies and the government to ensure local labour is employed in British waters but when ships sometime venture further offshore employers take the opportunity to circumvent national employment laws to cut costs using cheaper foreign labour.

This would appear to be the case in Australia as the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has expressed its opposition to the decision of BHP to exclude Australian crew from two vessels that previously carried iron ore from Port Hedland in Western Australia to steelworks in Port Kembla and to China. The union says the decision will see 80 Australian seafarers lose their jobs, ending more than 100 years of Australian-crewed iron ore shipping servicing BHP and BlueScope steelworks, to be replaced by foreign crew on Flag of Convenience (FoC) vessels. ITF Seafarers’ Section chair Dave Heindel, said:

“For over 100 years, Australian crew have serviced the iron ore trade between Port Hedland and Australia’s steel makers, BHP’s decision destroys one of the oldest national domestic shipping supply chains in Australia. Seafarers aboard the MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance have been discarded, left high and dry. It is disturbing that BHP has initiated this action six months before the expiry of the charter, with next to no notice to the unions. The ITF condemns the move and calls on BHP to reverse this decision.”

BHP annually charters around 1,500 vessels, the majority of which are FoC vessels, with some vessels not covered by ITF agreements, which the union says leaves seafarers exposed to exploitation and abuse. The ITF says it strongly supports Australian cabotage arrangements and the right of Australians seafarers to work in the domestic trade employed under Australian conditions. James Given, chair of the ITF’s cabotage task force said:

“The ITF has consistently opposed the alarming use of legal loopholes to circumvent national legislation that is intended to secure the rights of Australian seafarers and their entitlements in Australia’s domestic shipping trade. Based on information we’ve received, BHP and BlueScope have had plans to remove Australian seafarers from these two vessels and operate with foreign crews well in advance of the notice that our Australian affiliates received.

“This neglect is unacceptable and not in line with BHP’s stated commitment to working with integrity and respect. The ITF and our maritime affiliates worldwide, strongly reject the company’s behaviour which seems orchestrated to avoid accountability in Australia. As a leader in the global transport and logistics industry and a participant in the UN Global Compact initiative, there is an expectation that BHP sets positive trends and not promote a race to the bottom for transport of BHP product in domestic and international trade.

“The ITF stands firmly beside our Australian affiliates and the seafarers on these vessels. We call on BHP to immediately meet with the unions to rectify the matter back to the status quo, and invite the company to work with the ITF to ensure protections for all seafarers in their global supply chain.”

Photo: Some of the protestors pictured aboard their ship.