Caltex supply chain shift sees tanker dispute heat up

Tasmanian ALP and MUA question crew redundancy and underline fuel security issue

Caltex supply chain shift sees tanker dispute heat up
Bryan Green rejects Caltex’s crew costs reasoning. Pic: MUA


Fuel supplier Caltex has altered it supply chain due to the closure of BP's refinery, which has seen the end of its use of the tanker Alexander Spirit.

The Teekay Shipping Australia-operated products tanker Alexander Spirit will move to international duties and the redundancy of its 36 crew, thereby raising the ire of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

"Alexander Spirit will be redeployed to the international fuel supply chain, spending most of its time in international waters competing against every other ship importing fuel into Australia," Caltex says.

"As an Australian company competing against multinational fuel suppliers, Caltex needs to ensure the ship's operational arrangements, including crewing, are aligned with industry so it is not at a competitive disadvantage."

The 2007-built, 40,000-deadweight tonne Alexander Spirit came to Caltex's supply chain as part of a 10-year time-charter that began in 2009.

She had been used to distribute surplus fuel products from Caltex's Lytton refinery to other ports along the east coast but a new supply agreement means that is now supplied to BP in Brisbane.

The MUA has quoted Tasmanian Labor opposition leader Bryan Green challenging Caltex’s costs assertion.

"They claim it’s all about cost-cutting but modelling shows the cost per litre of fuel to maintain an Australian seafarer instead of a foreign one is miniscule, it wouldn’t even register at the petrol pump," Green is quoted as saying at a picket in Devonport, where the ship is docked and the crew is refusing to operate it.

"Local petrol prices, which are some of the highest in the country, have barely shifted in the past year despite global oil prices being the lowest in more than six years, so forgive me if I am cynical about Caltex’s reasoning behind their decision.

"I urge Caltex to reconsider and I call on the State and Federal Government to stop their attacks on Australian workers."

The MUA and Green renewed earlier criticism of the federal government for seeking to change national cabotage rules the control shipping between local ports.

"The Alexander Spirit is the latest in a series of tankers to depart the coast in the past year, which will mean the only Australian-crewed oil tanker on Australian routes will be the BP-owned British Fidelity, limiting the country’s capacity for fuel security," the union says.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) also weighed into the debate.

"The ITF urges Caltex to reconsider its decision and to support Australian seafarers in the carriage of domestic cargos," its maritime coordinator, Jacqueline Smith, says.

"Your country's fuel and national security is at risk as well as local jobs."

On the second point, the MUA highlights the recent Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee report on Australia's transport energy resilience and sustainability.

This found the nation’s fuel security measures were inadequate and recommended "the Australian Government develop and publish a comprehensive Transport Energy Plan directed to achieving a secure, affordable and sustainable transport energy supply. The plan should be developed following a public consultation process. Where appropriate, the plan should set targets for the secure supply of Australia's transport energy".

Tasmania independent senator Jacqui Lambie has called on the Liberal and National parties to "give a guarantee that the $33,994 donated by Caltex Australia to the conservative political parties during the 2013-14 federal election campaign, didn’t influence the introduction of government legislation, which helps shipping companies replace Australian maritime workers with foreign seafarers".

Caltex denies any such inference, saying all details are on public record.

"Caltex engages all major political parties on a broad range of issues relevant to the industries in which it operates," the company says.

"Caltex participates in political events organised by all major political parties – Labor, Liberal and National – and has done so for many years.

"The majority of the donations referred to are in the form of the business observer programs at political conferences or business liaison programs organised by major parties.

"Both types of events are open to anyone wishing to attend.

"These conference and business liaison program costs are classified as ‘donations’ under the relevant federal and state laws.

"A list of all such payments is publicly available on the AEC website."

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