Here’s a question for Canadians: The boss has just sacked you and your workmates and on your final shift, you’re ordered to sail your workplace over to a country where foreign workers who will be paid $2 an hour are waiting to take your jobs. Are you good with that?
For the 36 Australian crew of the MV Alexander Spirit — at sea as we write, sailing their tanker from Tasmania to Singapore to hand it off to foreign crew — the answer was obvious. They’re mad as hell that the work of delivering fuel from Australian refineries to Australian ports has been taken out of Australian workers’ hands. And after losing their long struggle to protect the work, they’re demanding their fellow citizens put a stop to the Abbott government’s program of allowing flag-of-convenience shipowners to steal their jobs.
We offer them our unwavering solidarity.
Equally, we offer Canada this warning: the Abbott agenda is being rolled out with unparalleled enthusiasm by the Harper Conservatives. As part of the trade deal our prime minister is scrambling to complete with Europe, Canadian-registered domestic shipping would be offered up to FOC vessels — opening our three coasts to foreign shipowners with no connection to Canada or our maritime communities, with no responsibility for our marine environment, operating as they do in the hyper-competitive, race-to-the-bottom market that FOC shipping represents.
It represents an ugly future for Canada. The pain that is now being felt in Australia, that has already been felt in Chile and all of Europe, including Norway, which is losing its national offshore oil-and-gas-sector vessels to flags of convenience, is heading our way.
To quote our Australian brothers and sisters at sea tonight, this must stop now.
Here is the stirring statement made by the crew of the Alexander Spirit before their departure. (The first sentence refers to crew changes that were made to replace seafarers suffering from stress-related illness).
“When the crew compliment exceeds minimum manning it is our intention to sail, it has always been our intention to sail. This does not allay our anger and disgust at Caltex and other oil majors such as BP, Viva, Shell and Mobil selling out Australian jobs.
The importance of every Australian to understand that it is no longer your right to have a job in this country must be pursued and every Australian must accept that they must fight rogue governments that align themselves with multinationals, such as the oil majors who are hell bent in exploiting third world labor at our expense.
The Abbott Government is trying to remove legislation and regulation around the right for Australian seafarers to work on their own coast, which not only encourage investment in the local industry but also serve to protect our environment and prevent exploitation of overseas workers.
The fact is Flag of Convenience (FOC) shipping is bad for Australia; it is bad for the world. Evidence clearly shows that FOC and the absence of any clear regulation of labour standards , safety standards and environmental standards has proven to be the ultimate race to the bottom.
You only have to look at the grounding of the Pasha Bulker in 2007, and the Kirki -= an oil tanker that fell apart at sea off the coast of Western Australia in 1991 — are living proof that Australia’s pristine coast is not immune to a catastrophic environmental disaster.
Further reports from Four Corners Sage Sagittarius (the Death Ship) and a recent series of articles in the New York Times continue to highlight multinational companies’ blatant disregard for lawful conduct and accountability whilst they set up their business arrangements in registered tax havens and make all attempts to dodge any scrutiny of their unacceptable behaviour.
This disregard of national legislation, regulation and workers’ rights is leading the charge and setting the example for other multi-nationals in other industries such as car manufacturing, ship building and mining to follow suit and kill-off job opportunities for Australians now and for generations to come.
It must stop now.
Australia is already down to four refineries and two Australian-flagged vessels carrying fuel around our coast, compared to eight refineries and 11 vessels in 1996. We now import 91 per cent of our fuel, which is largely transported by foreign vessels with foreign crews paid as little as $2 an hour.
When the Alexander Spirit goes, the island state of Tasmania will be entirely dependent on international ships with foreign crews supplying its petrol. The rest of Australia will be in the same position within a few years unless something is done. The local community in Devonport has been tremendous. The continued support around the clock in cold, unforgiving conditions at the community picket has been overwhelming. The community has continued to devote itself to the task of standing up for Australian workers first.
Australian workers, all workers around the world should have the right to stand up against bad laws, fight against multinational greed and raise awareness to others about injustice in the workplace.
A collective is stronger than an individual and we should have the right to fight for our jobs, not be shackled by bad laws and not to be governed to the point where you can no longer stand up for yourself.
It is up to us as workers, as community members, as concerned citizens of this country to seek change that protects Australian workers’ rights to work in our own country.
As the crew of the Alexander Spirit, we call on our union, the Maritime Union of Australia, to take on a campaign that fights for jobs and job security.
We further call on our union to take this campaign to the streets and engage with communities to make this an election issue. Any political party that does not put jobs and job security first and foremost is not a political party in our view that is deserving of governing this country.
We urge all members to engage with their branches nationwide to demonstrate to all oil majors that their decision to sell out Australian jobs and the right of Australians to work in this country is not acceptable.
Most importantly, we call on the community to not let the issue of jobs and job security sail out of Devonport with us on the Alexander Spirit.
It is time to get active.”
signed, the crew of the Alexander Spirit