The Guardian May 17, 2000


Underhanded attack on MUA

by Rohan Gowland

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has gone to the Federal Court in an 
effort to stop the Federal Government from allowing foreign-owned and 
crewed ships to carry Australian cargo.

Federal Transport Minister John Anderson has used a loophole in the 1912 
Navigation Act  which requires that, where possible, only Australian 
ships carry domestic cargo  to grant "single voyage" permits to two 
foreign flagged and crewed vessels.

The permits allow the ships to carry Australian cargo when Australian ships 
are occupied elsewhere. But the MUA says the Government granted these two 
recent permits when an Australian ship was available.

The MUA said that Australian ship owners have complained to the Minister 
and accused the Government of promoting a policy whereby shippers and cargo 
forwarders are manipulating the system to obtain cheap cargo rates from 
foreign, tax-exempt ships crewed by labour on "third world" wages.

"We will not stand by while the Government and shippers continue to rort 
the single voyage system to put Australian ships and crew out of work", 
said MUA acting National Secretary Paddy Crumlin.

The MUA has warned of the possibility of future nation-wide industrial 
action if the Government continues down this path.

The union is strongly convinced that the Government's use of these permits 
is politically motivated.

By issuing these permits Government is bypassing Parliament to impose its 
policy of opening up the transportation of domestic cargo to foreign 
competition with cheap labour and poor maintenance and safety records.

One cargo company, CSL Australia, has already announced that it would sell 
its bulk cargo ship because it can not compete with cheap overseas labour 
when tendering for contracts to carry Australian cargo.

The MUA has warned that the Government's present actions could result in no 
cargo for up to 50 Australian vessels and no work for 1,500 MUA members.

Apart from reducing shipping costs for Australian companies, the Government 
sees deregulation as "Plan "B" to undermine the MUA. It follows the 
Government's failure to break the union during the 1998 dispute.

The union has consulted its lawyers and will be fighting the Government's 
moves through the Federal Court.

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