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."