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Seamen stick up for Australian jobs

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by Bill F.

For more than 2 weeks, 18 seamen on the tanker Tandara Spirit have held the ship at anchor in Port Phillip Bay in a dispute over jobs and fuel security.

Viva Energy had been using the ship to transport petrol from the Geelong refinery, but had instructed the crew’s employer Teekay to sail the ship to Singapore and then lay off the crew.

It then turned out that Viva had hired another ship, the Vinalines Galaxy, which carried a Vietnamese crew working for $2 an hour – Gina Rinehart rates!

The Vina Galaxy had previously been pinged by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority for almost 50 breaches of health and safety, and several pollution issues. This, with the slave labour rates of pay, ought to put this particular ship “off limits” in Australian waters.

In contrast, none of the 5 Australian coastal tankers have recorded any defect notices over the last 5 years.

The assistant national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, Ian Bray, stated, “The union is very sympathetic to the workers on board, not only about their jobs but also their unanswered questions about fuel security and the future of Australian shipping around the Australian coast. 

“We now import 91% of Australia's fuel task, so in times of economic crisis when ships are laid up, in times of acts of terrorism, acts of war, shipping lanes being closed, we're not guaranteed that supply.

“The second part of that is once we lose control of how it's regulated, it probably has a direct effect on consumers at the bowser, where we're subject to price-gouging.”

A further issue was raised by Matt Ruchel, executive director of the Victorian National Parks Association, which was concerned at the risk of defective ships leaking oil into Port Phillip Bay and damaging sensitive bird habitats and sea life. “The risk of some kind of damaging oil or fuel spill from ships that are not up to scratch is much higher.” he said.

With Australia now importing over 90% of its petrol and diesel, and nearly 100 foreign tankers involved, the threats to jobs, fuel security and the environment have multiplied.

As Ian Bray said, “The attempt to justify international seafarers taking the jobs of Australian seafarers and only pay them $2 per hour was an absolute joke. To our members out on Tandara, we know other seafarers and wharfies are watching this dispute with keen interest and support you.”

So do millions of Australian workers concerned about their own job security and happy to see someone prepared to have a go.


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