The President of the Seafarers International Union of Canada this morning met with seafarers in Port Kembla to pledge international support for their campaign to save the Australian shipping industry.
SIU President Jim Given, who also chairs the International Transport Workers’ Federation cabotage taskforce, announced that the federation was planning a global day of action to support the 80 seafarers who lost their jobs when BHP and BlueScope axed the last Australian-crewed iron ore vessels in January.
Mr Given said union members around the world would take part in a series of actions to pressure the miner and steel producer over their treatment of Australian seafarers.
“The whole of the global union federation is watching Australia right now,” Mr Given said.
“Your country is at a crossroads, with a government that seems intent to see what remains of your domestic shipping industry killed off and replaced by exploited foreign labour.
“The upcoming election is a referendum on the future of Australian shipping after the Opposition Labor Party announced a series of welcome policies to create a strategic fleet of Australian-crewed vessels along with strengthening of coastal shipping regulation.
“Canada was at a very similar crossroads not so long ago, but thanks to the campaigning of workers we have seen the introduction of strong coastal shipping laws that have revitalised our industry.”
Mr Given said Canada had put in place a tough system that mandates that ships operating in Canadian waters must use Canadian or permanent resident workers and can only use foreign workers when Canadians are unavailable.
“Those regulations not only help promote continued investments in the Canadian fleet of vessels and Canadian seafarers, they also ensure the timely and safe transportation of Canadian cargoes,” he said.
“The law protects our economy and our environment by ensuring we have the best-trained, most-qualified sailors navigating Canada’s waterways.”
Mr Given said he was in Australia as part of the ITF cabotage taskforce to examine failings in the nation’s legislative and regulatory frameworks.
“Cabotage refers to the transportation goods or people between two points in the same country,” he said.
“The absence of enforced cabotage laws in Australia has meant that rather than invest in Australian vessels crewed with local workers, shipping companies have turned to foreign ships known for exploiting low-wage labour.
“The fight to save the jobs of these seafarers sacked by BHP and BlueScope is part of a much bigger fight to restore Australia’s shipping industry by guaranteeing local workers paid a decent wage carry out this vital coastal shipping trade.”