Merchant seamen in Australia are celebrating new landmark legislation that will protect their livelihoods for years to come. The new laws, known as the Shipping Reform Package, won a tight vote in the Australian Parliament thanks to a push by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). The head of the MUA, Paddy Crumlin, also serves as the president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (IFT), to which the SIU is affiliated.
Crumlin and the MUA worked for over 10 years to fine-tune and gather support for the bill package, which is regarded by many as the most important maritime reform legislation in more than 100 years, delivering a serious blow to so-called flag-of-convenience (FOC) registries and the abuses that happen aboard some of those vessels.
“What Australia has done … is show the way in international shipping,” said Crumlin. “The government has demonstrated that FOC shipping can be defeated and that all seafarers have a right to work in the industry. Cabotage is back on the menu for seafarers worldwide. These bills not only protect the national flag on Australia’s coastline, they privilege it.”
Crumlin also praised the ITF and its member unions for their support throughout the entire process, noting that the backing of other maritime groups was a huge boon for the effort.
“The support of the ITF was also critical to the political will to enact these wide-ranging and internationally important reforms and the ITF is enshrined in this legislation,” Crumlin said.
Among other highlights, the legislation, composed of five bills, gives a zero tax rate for shipping companies in Australia. This serves as an incentive for vessels to fly the Australian flag as opposed to a runway flag. Crumlin and the MUA see this as a guarantee for future work for Australia’s seafarers, and a key step that will help ensure that Australia remains a viable presence in the international maritime trade.
“This legislation provides a model for regional labor cooperation,” said Crumlin. “We now call upon other nations around the world to look to Australia’s example and work to protect their own national fleets, cabotage, and workers so that we can do away with flags of convenience forever.”
The legislation creates a new register that will allow regional workers from Pacific nations to work aboard Australian-flag vessels under Australian collective bargaining agreements. These agreements also guarantee workers’ rights to ITF standards. ITF General Secretary David Cockroft considers this a great victory for working people around the world and notes that it is the first time ITF standards have been incorporated into law on a national level.
“This breakthrough … shows that unions are continuing to prove that, even in a globalized world, the need is for responsible shipping that has genuine ties to those who work on ships and the wider populations that they serve,” said Cockroft.
The news of the Australian victory was warmly received by the SIU leadership. In a letter to Crumlin, SIU President Michael Sacco commended the MUA and the ITF for their efforts in making sure that strong cabotage laws are at the forefront of a nation’s maritime policy.
“We know how long and hard you (Crumlin) and the MUA have been fighting for and encouraging votes to pass these important measures,” said Sacco. “Your efforts show yet again the value of strong cabotage laws that ensure safe jobs with decent wages and benefits for the men and women who ply the seas. This is truly a job well done.”