|Issue No 46||17 March 2000|
Senate Guts 'Ships from Hell' Bill
By Zoe Reynolds
The Federal Opposition has prevented the deregulation and degradation of the Australian shipping industry.
The Maritime Union has applauded Senate changes to the Navigation Amendment (Employment of Seafarers') Bill 1998 - a bill which would otherwise have posed a serious threat to the Australian coastal environment and the lives of seafarers.
In an impassioned speech Senator Kim Carr (ALP, Victoria) said the original bill should have been titled ' the employment of cheap, sweated, unqualified foreign seafarers' bill. He compared the government push for deregulation in the shipping industry to the now widely condemned deregulation of nursing homes and the petrol industry.
"This bill is really about replacing Australian workers on Australian ships," he said. "It is about the reduction in the qualification of persons, it is about the reduction of wages and conditions for workers on ships."
Senator Jacinta Collins (ALP, Victoria) said the bill "ignored the very real dangers faced by seafarers" and the "threat to our coastline, environment and tourist industry."
Senator Collins also cited widespread reports of maltreatment of foreign seafarers, including bashing of crew members by ships officers, sexual molestation and rape, denial of food and provisions, underpayment or nonpayment of wages, appalling on board living conditions and deprivation of access to medical care- all extensively documented by successive Ships of Shame parliamentary inquiries and reports.
Both Democrat and Labour senators rejected and/or amended more than 20 of the 80 items in the bill, including removal of
* seafarers' entitlements to paid sick leave ashore,
* protection against seafarers being forced to work for years at sea
without a break
* restrictions on foreign crew handling cargo or ballast in port and
polluting our harbours
* independent policing of seafarers' accreditation
* restrictions prohibiting demanding or receiving fees for jobs
On rejecting the attempt to abolish sections of the act preventing poorly trained workers, buying forged qualifications and jobs at sea, Senator Brian Greig (Democrats, WA) said; "The move to allow persons to demand or receive fees for providing seafarers with employment results in the payment of bribes by seafarers to secure employment on ships."
Senator Kerry O'Brien" (ALP,Tasmania) described the government shipping policy as "laughable" because it had "done nothing to promote the shipping industry in this country". He also challenged the government to make public a recent report advocating industry funding and the retention of our national fleet on both economic and defence grounds.
Government spokesman Senator Ian MacDonald (Liberal Party, Queensland and minister for regional services, territories and local government) however accused both the Democrat and Labor senators of "gutting" the bill completely and being "subservient to the unions."
MUA National Secretary John Coombs said the outcome was a yet another massive defeat for Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith, the chief architect of the bill, a victory for human rights, a victory for the labour movement and a victory for all those genuinely concerned in protecting Australia's fragile marine environment.
Deputy National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said: " The government shipping policy is a disgrace. The Australian economy has been built on back of the Australian shipping industry. One in eight merchant seafarers died in the second world war. And the industry is just as important now as ever before. The dismantling of this bill applies tremendous pressure on the federal government to deliver a sustainable shipping policy for Australia."
The bill, as amended, was passed by the Senate on March 9, and will now return to the lower house.
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