The Guardian February 27, 2002


Shameful shipping policy

Maritime unions are continuing their struggle to save Australia's 
shipping industry from the slash and burn policies of the Howard 
Government. In the latest battle the unions have applied to the Industrial 
Relations Commission to prevent shipping company CSL from selling its ships 
to its own subsidiary companies to get around Australian labour laws.

CSL wants to sell its vessel the Yarra to one of these dummy companies, 
which would then register it overseas, sack the Australian crew, and 
replace them with cheap non-union labour. The Yarra would then 
return to operate in Australian waters under a foreign flag and with a 
foreign crew, i.e. converted into a ship of shame.

In July 2000, CSL pulled this stunt with its vessel the Pacific, 
which is now working the Australian coast moving Australian cargoes under 
the flag of the Bahamas with a Ukrainian crew.

The use of foreign ships in Australian waters has grown by 293 percent 
since 1994. Union estimates are that only around 45 major Australian 
flagged and crewed commercial vessels remain in Australian waters.

Since the Howard Government came to office in 1996 permits issued to 
foreign flagged and crewed vessels have increased by 350 percent.

In the Industrial Relations Commission, the Maritime Union of Australia, 
the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers and the Australian 
Maritime Officers' Union have applied to have CSL and its subsidiaries 
brought under the Maritime Industry Seagoing Award. The unions also have a 
Federal Court injunction stopping the sale of the Yarra.

The Maritime Union described CSL selling its vessels to related companies 
as a "sham" to give it the freedom to get rid of its unionised Australian 
crew in order to exploit the labour of foreign crews.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions said that the Government is 
threatening the continued existence of Australian shipping by issuing 
permits to foreign vessels and allowing them to work Australian routes. 
"Many of these foreign vessels are rust-buckets and threaten our marine 
environment", said the peak body's Secretary, Greg Combet. "They destroy 
Australian jobs and don't pay Australian taxes."

The Government is expected to oppose the unions' application for award 
coverage of CSL's operations.

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