Thursday, February 7, 2019

Flags of Convenience Facilitate Exploitation as Bulk Ore Tankers Crew Fight for Wages

Union Says Inspectors are Blocked and Pay Regulations Broken
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – Maritime unions around the globe have flags of convenience, and the crews of nationals foreign to the ports they call at, firmly in their sights, with accusations that ship owners are deliberately outsourcing crew duties to cheaper nationalities, even when domestic regulations demand better pay and conditions. Now grist has been added to the union mill in a case which the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is simply terming 'wage theft'.

Just last month the ITF made a scathing attack on mining giants BHP and BlueScope Steel for the decision to transfer jobs on two vessels shipping ore, much of it on a domestic route, to overseas crews, after a century of employing native Australian staff on the services. Now, after a complaint from the crew of a BlueScope chartered foreign-flagged ship in Port Kembla, the owners have had to pay A$38,384 in coastal wages to the 20 Filipinos on board.

The ITF says seafarers working flag of convenience ships are subjected to exploitation, poor working conditions and wages and are often at the mercy of a system that allows for minimum regulation. Inspections by ITF inspectors in Western Port and Port Kembla of the Panamanian registered vessel KEN EI, a 37,000 dwt bulk carrier, has led to the latest settlement, as ITF national coordinator Dean Summers, explains:

“Upon arriving in Western Port, the crew on the KEN EI immediately asked our inspector about claims for payment for two coastal voyages and requested that the ITF contact the ship owner as they had no correspondence or indication that they would be paid by either the ship owner or charterers BlueScope and Rio Tinto.

“This is the cold, hard reality of the decision by BHP and BlueScope to end 100 years of Australian shipping, dumping Australian crews and replacing them with Flag of Convenience vessels. Wage theft is one of the biggest problems in the global shipping industry. In December last year alone, ITF inspectors conducted 761 inspections and recovered almost $2 million in wages stolen from the world’s seafarers.

“The decision by BHP and BlueScope, facilitated by the Morrison Government, has again opened the door to more exploitation on our coast. In this case, the ship owner only cooperated after we alerted them to their obligations under Australian law. We even had to correct their calculations to ensure the crew were paid correctly.

“[This] one inspection led to almost A$40,000 being paid to the crew on the KEN EI which fuels our concerns about the health, safety and welfare of the crews working on foreign flagged vessels chartered by BHP and BlueScope across the country. This is compounded by the fact that BHP have blocked ITF Inspectors access to conduct inspections on board ships at their ports, and manufactured excuses to keep working and living conditions on these ships sheltered from scrutiny.”

Photo: The KEN EI leaving port.