Sea wars on the Australian coast
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) last week went to Court over plans by shipping company CSL Australia to reflag yet another bulk carrier, the CSL Yarra, and replace its Australian crew with a foreign crew working under "third world" conditions. At stake is not just the future operations of the ship, but potentially the future of the entire Australian coastal shipping fleet. The proposal by CSL Australia, a subsidiary of the Canadian shipping company Canadian Shipping Line, to convert the Yarra to a flag of convenience vessel follows a similar conversion of the former ship Torrens. This ship was re-flagged as the CSL Pacific in the Bahamas, but now operates on the Australian coast with a Ukrainian crew and with the blessing of the Howard Government, which has issued the company with "continuous voyage" permits. The company last year disclosed plans to sell the Yarra to its Asian subsidiary, and in December announced its intention to sack the "Yarra's "Australian crew and replace them with a crew from the Ukraine to ply the Australian coastal trade. The MUA and the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers subsequently gained an injunction preventing the sale of the Yarra from proceeding, pending the court decision. The initial hearing was held last week, but the Court's decision will not be announced for another six weeks. The unions also took action in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to prevent the dismissal of the Yarra's crew and to have the Pacific's crew brought under the Australian award while working the Australian coast. Following this move, the Federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Abbott personally intervened in the case, arguing that the matter is beyond the Commission's jurisdiction. If the process adopted by the company is accepted by the courts, all the Australian coastal shipping could become foreign-owned and manned by crews subject to third world working conditions. The government's support for the process has been attacked by both the ACTU and the Australian Shipowners Association. The Association's Executive Officer, Lachlan Payne, pointed out recently that since 1986 the rate of investment in Australian shipping has declined from $396 million to $6.6 million. Since 1991 the average age of the Australian fleet has increased from 8.1 years to 15 years. ACTU President Sharan Barrow also attacked the Federal Government's policy of issuing permits for foreign shipping companies to operate in the Australian coastal trade. The number of permits issued to foreign vessels by the Howard Government has increased by 350 per cent since 1996. She commented: "By issuing more and more permits to these vessels, Transport Minister John Anderson is knowingly authorising the export of Australian jobs. John Anderson's foreign fleet is killing the Australian shipping industry. "Many of these foreign vessels are rust-buckets and threaten our marine environment. They destroy Australian jobs and don't pay Australian taxes. ships doing the right thing and operating with Australian crews under the Australian flag just can't compete with John Anderson's ships of shame."