Wage theft aboard a BlueScope chartered foreign-flagged ship in Port Kembla has been exposed after intervention from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).Inspections by ITF inspectors in Western Port and Port Kembla of the Panamanian registered vessel KEN EI, in January, led to $38,384 in coastal wages being paid immediately in cash to the 20 Filipino seafarers crewing the ship.
“Upon arriving in Western Port, the crew on the KEN EI immediately asked our inspector about claims for payment for two coastal voyages and requested that the ITF contact the shipowner as they had no correspondence or indication that they would be paid by either the shipowner or charterers BlueScope and Rio Tinto,” said ITF national coordinator Dean Summers.
“This is the cold, hard reality of the decision by BHP and BlueScope to end 100 years of Australian shipping, dumping Australian crews and replacing them with Flag of Convenience vessels,” said Summers.
Seafarers working Flag of Convenience (FoC) ships are subjected to exploitation, poor working conditions and wages and are often at the mercy of a system that allows for minimum regulation.
“Wage theft is one of the biggest problems in the global shipping industry. In December last year alone, ITF inspectors conducted 761 inspections and recovered almost $2 million in wages stolen from the world’s seafarers,” said Summers.
“The decision by BHP and BlueScope – facilitated by the Morrison Government – has again opened the door to more exploitation on our coast.
“In this case, the shipowner only cooperated after we alerted them to their obligations under Australian law. We even had to correct their calculations to ensure the crew were paid correctly.
“One inspection led to almost $40,000 being paid to the crew on the KEN EI which fuels our concerns about the health, safety and welfare of the crews working on foreign flagged vessels chartered by BHP and BlueScope across the country.
“This is compounded by the fact that BHP have blocked ITF Inspectors access to conduct inspections onboard ships at their ports, and manufactured excuses to keep working and living conditions on these ships sheltered from scrutiny,” said Summers.