The Guardian March 5, 2003


Flag of convenience shipping sinks seafarers' jobs

by David Hauser

The Australian company, Intercontinental Ship Management P/L (ISM) has 
decided to buckle to the Federal Government's fierce campaign to end the 
careers of the Australian seafarers they employ, by flagging out the 
remaining vessels under the Tongan Flag of Convenience (FOC). According to 
Dean Summers, International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) co-ordinator 
in Sydney, an additional 50 Australian seafarers have been put out of work 
due to the hostile attack on the Maritime Union of Australia by the Federal 
Government.

This comes after a written statement in 1997 by then General Manager Chris 
Sorenson, "ISM can not support change that would result in Australian jobs 
in coastal shipping being replaced by low-waged workers from overseas".

For those readers who don't know of Chris Soerenson, he is now employed by 
the Canadian Shipping Line, responsible for the attempted removal of the 
crew of the CSL Yarra last year in Port Pirie, South Australia.

The motivation for this manoeuvre is purely a financial one, due to the 
fact that Tongan Seafarers get paid only US$186 (approx. A$300) per month 
and Trainees only US$20 (approx. A$32) per month. That is a saving from the 
ITF agreed rates of US$1300 (more than A$2000) per month per seafarer.

But there is an easy solution to this problem. The Federal Government could 
stop this abuse of foreign seafarers and reclaim Australian jobs in one 
swift move: THEY COULD STOP ISSUING SINGLE VOYAGE AND MULTIPLE VOYAGE 
PERMITS!

As soon as that happens, and I know under the current government it is NOT 
likely, then Australian Seafarers can reclaim the jobs that are rightfully 
theirs. If only Australian ships are operating on our coast then there can 
be no exploitation of poorly paid foreign crews, and the cost of manning 
ships will be uniform.

But the problems that can arise from this move go even deeper. Tongan 
flagged vessels have been arrested, detained and investigated over a series 
of allegations. Ships operating under this flag have been caught running 
drugs, guns and are strongly suspected of having provided safe passage for 
some of the suspects responsible for the September 11 attacks in the USA.

But this does not seem to worry the Howard Government or its incompetent 
Transport Minister John Anderson, who is responsible for the issuing of 
permits that allow these vessels operate on the Australian coast.

The Maritime Union of Australia has protested against the company at their 
St Leonards offices in Sydney last week, on February 27. More actions are 
likely.

If the government and shipping lines get away with this, then it will not 
be long before the government gives the OK to other employers to replace 
their workforces with "guest" workers on starvation wages slaving under 
19th century working conditions.

This is a problem for all Australian workers and the removal of this 
completely spineless Federal Government is the first step for all 
Australians to secure a safe and secure Coastal Trade Shipping environment 
for our future.

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