Industrial dispute, at-sea incident 'unrelated'

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Industrial dispute, at-sea incident 'unrelated'

An incident yesterday which saw up to 700 tonnes of cement dust in a ship turned to concrete when a fire hose poured water into the cargo hold had nothing to do with a Federal Court row over its proposed sale and plans to reflag it in another country, according to its owner.

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An incident yesterday which saw up to 700 tonnes of cement dust in a ship turned to concrete when a fire hose poured water into the cargo hold had nothing to do with a Federal Court row over its proposed sale and plans to reflag it in another country, according to its owner.

The hose on the CSL Australia bulk carrier Yarra was discovered yesterday off the NSW south coast to have been running water into the cement dust since leaving Brisbane on Tuesday, bound for Adelaide.

The Maritime Union of Australia was granted an injunction in the Federal Court on 21 December stopping CSL Australia selling the Yarra to its Asian subsidiary in what the union said was a move to have it made a 'flag of convenience' ship. The company is also forbidden from reregistering the ship in another country and removing its Australian crew, pending a further hearing before a Federal Court full bench in early April.

MUA SA secretary Rick Newlyn told WorkplaceInfo that in December, only days after CSL Australia had promised to meet with unions on negotiations towards a new enterprise agreement, the ship's 17 Australia crew were told by the captain it would be sold and they would be replaced with cheaper Ukrainian labour.

The bulk carrier plies a route along the eastern seaboard of Australia, and occasionally travels to Tasmania. Two years ago, its sister ship, the Torrens, was sold to CSL Asia, rebadged as the CSL Pacific and registered in the Bahamas, and is now back on the same route but with so-called 'guest labour' with lesser pay and conditions to the former Australian crew.

Newlyn said Yarra crew members caught the company trying to paint over the current port of registration, Melbourne, and change it to Nassau, in the Bahamas, where there are no maritime laws. The MUA, with international affiliates, has long campaigned against so-called 'ships of shame' where pay is poor, conditions are often dangerous and environmental pollution is more common. Newlyn said this is what lay in wait if overseas workers crewed the Yarra.

'They want to hire third world workers on poverty conditions - fish heads and a bowl of rice. That's exactly what this means to us,' he said. Unions are also concerned that when the 'guest workers' are allowed on ships in Australian waters, it is only a matter of time before they begin working on-shore.

He slammed the move, which he said came only days after he had agreement from CSL Australia managing director Chris Sorensen to meet the unions, as 'clandestine and covert'.

He said the unions' Federal Court win in December showed it had a strong case, and there was no way workers would have jeopardised that by sabotaging the boat. 'The idea that you'd sabotage your own boat is beyond belief,' he said.

Newlyn said the first he heard of yesterday's incident was when a journalist called him. He said he had since spoken to the captain, a member of one of the other maritime unions, who had not indicated 'in any way, shape or form' that it could be sabotage. While he admitted to ABC Radio this morning that to the cynical eye the incident might appear deliberate, he reiterated to WorkplaceInfo that he suspected the fire hydrant at the root of yesterday's incident was either 'dripping like a leaky tap' or had exploded upon leaving Brisbane.

The unions would be presenting breaches not only of the federal Workplace Relations Act, but also the Navigation Act and Immigration Act, when they appeared before the full bench in April, Newlyn said.

CSL Australia's managing director Chris Sorensen told WorkplaceInfo there was little he could say, apart from that the two incidents were unrelated as far as the company was concerned.

He said he did not want to speak on the Federal Court proceedings for fear of prejudicing further hearings. As far as yesterday's incident went, he said the Master of the ship had requested the Australian Maritime Safety Authority investigate the incident, which was 'normal procedure'.

The company had also requested the Australian Federal Police launch an investigation when the ship docks in Adelaide on Sunday night. While he would not be drawn on whether this was also normal procedure, Sorensen said there had been incidents in the past in which the company had requested similar assistance from the AFP.

The MUA was fined $150,000 plus costs in the Federal Court late last year for breaching the Trade Practices Act after it admitted engaging in harassment and coercion to persuade two overseas ships to use MUA labour to clean the ships when they were in port (see 315/2001).

 

 
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