MAC: Mines and Communities

Armed police remove ship's Australian crew from ore ships

Published by MAC on 2016-02-17
Source: Statement, Sydney Morning Herald (2016-02-14)

The following is a distinctly worrying, if not deplorable, development, with allegations that alumina-carrying ships, owned or chartered by companies such as Rio Tinto and and Alcoa, are complicit in forcibly removing Australian workers, in order to replace them with foreign crews paid only $2 an hour.

The de-unionisation of Australian mines is, of course, something Rio Tinto has pursued for many years.

Hundereds Turn out to Brisbane CBD to protest Rio's actions in dumping Aussie Seafarers

Ashleigh Telford

Maritime Union of Australia

14 February 2016

More than four hundred workers from several unions, most notably from CFMEU construction, took their fight straight to multi-billion dollar miner Rio Tinto for its complicity in sacking Australian seafarers and replacing them with foreign workers paid as little as $2-an-hour.

Last week in the port of Newcastle five crewmembers were marched down the gangway of the CSL Melbourne by more than 30 police. Those same police escorted the foreign replacement crew onto the ship to sail it away.

The CSL Melbourne carried alumina from Gladstone to Newcastle for Rio Tinto subsidiary, Pacific Aluminium for more than five years. However, the route between Queensland and New South Wales is still being utilised, only by non-Australian workers not subject to the same rights and conditions as their Australian counterparts.

The rally began outside of Brisbane's Central Station and made its way through the city streets to Rio's offices on Albert Street.

As well as the strong crowd of protesters and State Labor Party members, speeches came from CFMEU Assistant State Secretary Jade Ingham, QCU Secretary Ros McLennan, ACTU President Ged Kearney, ETU Assistant Secretary Peter Ong and sacked seafarer from the MV Portland Dale Eaton.

Maritime Union of Australia Queensland Deputy Branch Secretary Jason Miners said the Federal Government was complicit in Rio Tinto’s actions in granting them a licence to exploit a loophole in domestic shipping legislation.

“Rio made $806 million US dollars in just six months, they made more profit than Switzerland’s Gross Domestic Product,” Miners said. 

“A massive chunk of that $806 million was made here from the minerals that all Australians own and we’re being repaid by being unceremoniously sacked from our jobs, to me that’s abhorrent.

“These jobs aren’t offshored, they still exist. However, Pacific Aluminium have been given the green light by the Government to have foreign ships of shame with dodgy environmental, safety and labour practices on our coastal trade.”

Following the speeches MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray, along with Queensland Assistant Secretary Paul Gallagher and the ACTU's Kearney marched into the Rio Tinto offices and handed a letter to the management demanding replacement jobs for the displaced seafarers. 

Following the brief meeting in the glass foyer, surrounded by hundreds of angry workers, Bray reported back to the crowd the outcomes.

He said that Rio has agreed to meeting with the MUA and other maritime unions. 

"We will continue to agitate, we will continue to organise, we will continue to push the fight, not only here, but around the country and Canberra, or wherever we have to go to make sure our message and our voices are heard," Bray said.


Armed police remove ship's Australian crew, escort replacements aboard

Tony Wright and Nick Toscano

Sydney Morning Herald

5 February 2016

Armed police have removed the Australian crew of the bulk alumina carrier, CSL Melbourne, and escorted aboard a foreign crew to sail the ship out of Australian waters.

A large contingent of police raided the ship in Newcastle, NSW, at 8.45am Friday, telling the five Australian crew members they must leave their vessel immediately.

"About 18 police came on board and ordered us to leave," said crew member Jason Donnellan.

"It was very intimidating. I'd estimate they were about 50 police altogether, with lots of them on the wharf, in paddy wagons and in two boats circling the ship.

"We asked if we could take our bags, but they said they would be brought off the ship afterwards.

"I can't believe this — a company using police to get rid of Australian workers."

A NSW police spokeswoman said officers boarded the vessel after being invited by the ship's captain to assist with the safe removal of the crew.

"The five men left the ship without incident at the invitation of the captain," she said.

"No persons were arrested or detained."

The seafarers had been protesting over their imminent dismissal by occupying the vessel and refusing to sail to Singapore.

It is the second time in a month that Australian seamen have been forcibly removed from ships hauling alumina on Australian coastal routes, and replaced by low-paid foreign seafarers.

At 1am on January 13, about 30 security guards boarded Alcoa's ship, the MV Portland, which was berthed in the west Victorian harbour of Portland, and removed the five Australian crew members who were sleeping on the vessel.

They were immediately replaced by a foreign crew which sailed the MV Portland to Singapore where it is to be sold.

The CSL Melbourne was chartered by Pacific Aluminium, a wholly-owned Rio Tinto subsidiary.

It has been hauling alumina from Gladstone in Queensland to Newcastle for smelting at the nearby Tomago Aluminium plant.

The shipping company that owns CSL Melbourne plans to transfer it to international operations out of Singapore, and replace it with a foreign-flagged ship with foreign crew members, which the Maritime Union of Australia says are paid as little as $2 an hour.

Both Alcoa and Pacific Aluminium have recently gained "temporary coastal licences" from the Federal Government, allowing them to replace their ships with foreign-flagged vessels and foreign crews.

This is despite the Senate late last year denying proposed legislation to open Australia's coastal routes to foreign ships.

A spokesman for the Canadian-owned shipping company, CSL, said the five crew members were peacefully escorted from the vessel on Friday morning, and that the CSL Melbourne would now depart for Singapore.

He said the crew was removed after refusing to comply with orders made by the Fair Work Commission and the Federal Court this week for each worker to end the unlawful industrial action.

The union has expressed outrage at the use of police and security officers to remove Australian seafarers from their workplace, which it called a disturbing trend.

"This is a disgraceful episode in Australian history, when the forces of the state and the police can move on Australian workers, throw them off their legitimate place of work and replace them with labour that will be paid $2 an hour," assistant union secretary Warren Smith said.

"We are going to throw everything at a campaign for justice for Australian workers and justice for Australian seafarers."

The maritime union has launched heated political attacks over the recent sackings of Australian seafarers. It is pressing the federal government to support local jobs and revoke special licences that permit the use of low-paid foreign crews on domestic shipping routes, which Labor and the unions have branded "WorkChoices on water".

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, leading the push for coastal shipping reform, said the "temporary coastal licences" that permit the use of foreign-crewed ships for domestic voyages were part of Labor's shipping rules introduced in 2012.

He said the special licences could be issued in the event that no Australian operators were seeking to carry the cargo, "and that's exactly what happened in this situation".

Mr Truss said the Australian shipping had been left uncompetitive by the previous government.

The union said there was "no way" Australian companies could compete with foreign crews that were being exploited and grossly underpaid by greedy operators.

"Imagine in Melbourne or anywhere else in Australia if a company replaced a truck driver with someone from the Third World getting paid $2 an hour ... it would be an absolute outrage," he said.

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