The Guardian March 3, 1999


Seafarers take action

Seafarers on board the Iron Flinders in White Bay, Sydney, last 
week refused to sail for New Zealand in protest against the decision by the 
ship's owner, BHP, to pull out of the TransTasman trade route.

The Iron Flinders crew informed the Maritime Union of Australia 
(MUA) last Thursday that they had voted to take action to draw attention to 
the destruction of the Australian shipping industry.

The crew called on the Howard Government to immediately reinstate the 
funding it has cut from the Australian shipping industry, an industry they 
say is being driven out of business by often sub-standard, poorly 
maintained foreign vessels exploiting crew from poor and developing 
nations.

The MUA says BHP's decision to withdraw from the TransTasman trade will 
leave all cargo between Australia and New Zealand to substandard overseas 
vessels and crews.

The Iron Flinders seafarers called this an "absolute disgrace". They 
say BHP should delay its decision at least until the end of March when a 
government task force is due to make further recommendations on funding for 
the Australian shipping industry.

The union points out that when it came to office the Howard Government 
removed all investment incentives for the shipping industry.

"It has stood back and watched Australian ships, Australian seafarers and 
Australian business in this essential economy slowly collapse", said MUA 
National Secretary, John Coombs.

"How can anyone take the Treasurer seriously when he says the Government is 
committed to lowering the unemployment rate to below five per cent, when 
each day more and more Australian workers are being made redundant."

Australian seafarers have continued to lower their costs, accepting further 
crew and leave reductions.

"This Government seems determined to destroy any business associated with 
organised labour", said Mr Coombs. "Australian and New Zealand seafarers 
have been working in this trade for 150 years through two world wars. And 
we intend to stay in the industry."

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