As the world prepares to mark International Day of the Seafarer this Saturday, international trade unions are calling for governments and employers throughout the global supply chain to redouble their efforts to improve the welfare and conditions for an essential yet often invisible workforce.
“Seafarers have kept the world economy moving during more than 24 months of upheaval, but all too often they are hidden from view both here and in their own homes because of the international nature of their work,” said Paddy Crumlin, the Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary and President of the International Transport Workers Federation.
With hundreds of thousands of international seafarers working throughout the globe, the economic and social importance of the work these hard-working individuals has never been more significant, however after almost two and a half years of COVID, the plight of seafarers and international transport workers remains all too often out of sight and out of mind.
“With 98% of Australian imports and exports being transported by ship, the economic wealth we enjoy is directly attributable to the work of seafarers and other transport workers in the international shipping sector,” Mr Crumlin said. “We should therefore, as a society, take a far greater interest in the struggles and circumstances of a workforce that is often subjected to mistreatment or just plain disinterest from employers and governments the world over,” he added.
Seafarers continue to struggle with lengthy crew-change delays and bureaucratic hurdles which force them to remain at sea longer than expected. They are often prevented from shore-leave while at port due to COVID restrictions, and at the same time remain amongst the lowest vaccinated cohorts of workers worldwide. Connectivity in these situations is more important than ever, but most international ship owners refuse to provide even basic WiFi or telephone services to their crews.
In Australia, seafarers include workers on tug vessels, ferries, and port services vessels such as Pilots, Linesmen and charter boats. These workers all play an important role on the frontlines of our public transit, logistics and tourism sectors, and employers in these sectors should respect the contribution their workers make without resorting to corporate militancy in the Fair Work Commission.
Seafarers are under sustained attack by multinational employers and their representatives.
Locally, ‘Shipping Australia Limited’, which represents the commercial interests of international shipping cartels in Australia, has doggedly opposed the campaign by the Maritime Union of Australia and the Albanese Federal Government to establish a strategic fleet of Australian flagged and crewed vessels. Likewise, they have repeatedly talked down the importance of domestic and trans-Tasman shipping in securing Australian and New Zealand supply chains.
Internationally, the Dubai-based owner of P&O Ferries in the United Kingdom, DP World, has stood back while management has sacked over 800 devoted seafarers so that the jobs they perform can be converted to labour-hire roles on bottom dollar contracts.
“Without seafarers, ships stop – and with that so does everything else. The Day of the Seafarer is an opportunity for the industry to seriously engage with the issues these workers are reporting and address them in line with the values they claim to espouse,” Mr Crumlin said. “The importance of this work and the contribution made by these people can’t be overstated, yet they are some of the most vulnerable and mistreated workers throughout the global economy,” he said.