Australian seafarers replaced by $2/hour workers: Union

NEWCASTLE’S seafaring community lent its support to an Australian crew – whose jobs they say will be replaced by cheap foreign labour – at a rally outside BP’s Carrington depot on Tuesday.

The 20-member crew of tanker British Loyalty, which has delivered BP fuel to Newcastle and Sydney for seven years, have been given two months’ notice they will be out of work when the ship is taken out of Australian service.

It’s the third Australian-crewed ship to be decommissioned in the past 12 months and the Maritime Union of Australia said the work was going to international boats that did not pass Australian safety standards and were crewed by foreign sailors  paid as little as $2 an hour.

The union’s cargo mapping showed product that was previously transported by decommissioned Shell tankers Hugli Spirit and Tandara Spirit was now being moved by foreign ships.

‘‘There’s nothing else to gain but more money for BP,’’ Newcastle Maritime Union of Australia spokesperson Glen Williams said.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation had seen frequent evidence of the exploitation of foreign sailors in Australian waters, Mr Williams said. 

‘‘Not a week goes by when we are not contacted by a seafarer who has been exploited and found they are being paid $400 per month, denied water, denied food or bullied,’’ Mr Williams said.

‘‘We [Australian seafarers] have to go through Customs checks, ASIO checks and Federal police ... and if you have any criminal history, you are denied the right to work in the industry,’’ he said.

‘‘Yet we have foreign seafarers coming into our country on a daily basis and they not exposed to any of this.’’

But a BP spokesperson denied claims the work would go to foreign crews.

The spokesperson said the tanker’s services would not be needed once Bulwer Island refinery closed later this year.

Mr Williams said that the union understood the services of British Loyalty would not be needed to carry fuel from the Brisbane refinery but he asked which crews were transporting 700,000 tonnes of BP product around Australia.

Georga Fitzgibbon and Andy Poynter at the rally outside BP’s Carrington depot. Picture: Peter Stoop

THE axed jobs of fellow seafarers is another blow to Georga Fitzgibbon’s hopes of working in her profession. 

The 22-year-old from Newcastle, who worked on the British Loyalty during her training, has been unemployed since she qualified as a seafarer nine months ago.

Ms Fitzgibbon said it was devastating to learn of the job losses on a ship on which she knew most of the crew. 

‘‘What are they supposed to do? A lot of them have just bought houses, they’ve all got babies and young kids,’’ Ms  Fitzgibbon said.

It also means there is a longer queue of experienced sailors waiting for the next opportunity.

According to union figures there are 160 people with Ms Fitzgibbon’s seafarer qualification looking for jobs.

Ms Fitzgibbon said that didn’t include people who had left the industry because of lack of work.

‘‘It’s all going to foreign crews,’’ Ms Fitzgibbon said. ‘‘It’s mainly because companies say they can’t afford qualified skilled labour. But we all know they can, they just use it as an excuse to get cheap foreign labour.’’

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