MUA to appeal FWC ruling on Alexander Spirit action

Crewing protests become lightning rod for shipping reform opposition

MUA to appeal FWC ruling on Alexander Spirit action
The Alexander Spirit protest. Pic: MUA


The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) will look to overturn a Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruling against industrial action at Teekay-operated products tanker Alexander Spirit in Devonport.

While acknowledging there is seafarer concern at the prospect of 36 redundancies, Commissioner Ian Cambridge ruled that this in itself did not constitute protected industrial action.

"Further, industrial action does not become protected industrial action because of circumstances where there may be personal psychological impacts arising from the continuation of work in accordance with the manner that work is customarily performed and without any form of restriction, limitation or delay upon the performance of work," Cambridge states.

"The prospect of some adverse physiological condition does not translate into a reasonable concern about an imminent risk to health and safety.

It was "in essence, a predicament that is broadly shared by many other Australian workers.

"The prospect of sailing the Alexander Spirit to Singapore may, for example, be contemplated in similar fashion to those vehicle manufacturing workers who assemble the final Falcon, Commodore and Camry."

The protest is delaying part of a change in Caltex’s supply chain to international sourcing of fuel and therefore the ship’s move to international crewing.

Opposition politicians have cast the case as reflecting the broader issue of infrastructure minister Warren Truss’ move to reform the coastal shipping, or ‘cabotage’, regime.

The federal government introduced the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 on June 25.

The Bill aims to "replace the existing three tiered licensing system with a single permit system, available to Australian and foreign vessels, which will provide access to the Australian coast for a period of 12 months; and establish a framework of entitlements for seafarers on foreign vessels engaging or intending to engage in coastal shipping for more than 183 days; the Shipping Registration Act 1981 to allow vessels to be registered on the Australian International Shipping Register when they engage in international shipping for 90 days or more; and four Acts to make consequential amendments".

It would also repeal the previous government’s Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 2012.

As the FWC ruling was being made, Labor transport spokesman Anthony Albanese and industrial relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor reiterated their party’s position on the move.

"This means they will undercut Australian shipping companies that pay Australian-level wages and drive them out of business, putting Australian mariners out of work," the spokesmen say.

The government’s position is that the earlier reforms have failed to make coastal shipping a viable alternative transport mode and has done nothing to increase the numbers of Australian-flagged ships, which was a state aim.

The reform’s most-recent mention is in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

"The potential benefits of these reforms to farmers and regional Australia are clear. Cheaper, more accessible shipping would provide additional, more efficient options for the interstate transport of goods," the text states.

"For example, the proposed changes would reduce restrictions on manufacturers seeking to move fertiliser and its input products.

"The changes would also increase choice for primary producers seeking to move goods to market.

"Simplifying the coastal shipping rules for moving cargo has the potential to open Australian waters to more efficient shipping services at competitive prices."

However, it appears the government may struggle for the Senate numbers to pass the Bill.

The Alexander Spirit protest has become something of a rallying point for Labor and the union movement.

A number of high profile supporters have joined in, including Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, ACTU president Ged Kearney, ALP senator Anne Urquhart, Tasmanian opposition leader Bryan Green, Bass ALP candidate Justine Keay and MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray.

The Bill can be found here.

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