Australia’s Plans for Domestic Shipping Risks Thousands of Jobs, ITF Warns

cargo ship containers
Photo (c) Shutterstock/Aleksey Stemmer

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has slammed the Australian government’s plans to reform its newly-adopted cabotage laws, saying that the conservative government’s plan to deregulate its domestic shipping industry would place thousands of domestic maritime sector jobs at risk.

The Australian Government’s new plan for coastal shipping was announced Wednesday by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Hon Warren Truss MP. The changes would dismantle a comprehensive reform package delivered by the previous government in 2012, known as the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping Act) 2012, which created a level playing field for Australia’s domestic shipping. The 2012 package included support for Australian shipping companies, including tax breaks and training subsidies, as well as a requirement that foreign-flagged vessels pay Australian level wages when working domestic trade sectors.

Commenting on the reforms, ITF president Paddy Crumlin strongly urged for the retention and improvement of the Australia’s Coastal Trading Act.

“The international experience is that cabotage is a normal way to deliver domestic freight securely, safely and predictably for many maritime nations including the United State, Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“The 2012 changes have the potential to create employment, sustain business opportunities and productivity and support Australia’s economy, environment and way of life – but they must be given time to work.

“It is in the national interest to retain and grow the coastal shipping industry yet these changes could directly impact around 2,000 direct jobs and up to 8,000 associated jobs – so 10,000 Australian jobs could go offshore.

“This could spell disaster on a number of fronts – maritime jobs, skills, fuel security, maritime security and pose a threat to the environment.

“There could also be a significant impact on the offshore oil and gas sector – with the result being limited visa regulations and oversight.

“We expect the government to put up legislation before our parliament in the first half of this year and we’re gearing up for a fight.”

The statement from the ITF also made reference to the Jones Act in the United States and the strong bipartisan support it has received recently from Members of Congress.

United States Seafarers International Union (SIU) secretary-treasurer, and ITF seafarers’ section chair, David Heindel said the U.S. experience has been that strong cabotage laws help support jobs as well as bolster economic and national security.

“Especially in times of crisis, shipping is essential to national security and as a nation, you need to think twice about allowing essential skills to be placed in the hands of non-Australian interests,” Mr Heindel said.

“What you don’t want to see is more flag of convenience (FOC) ships, with their questionable standards and exploited crews, take over ports and displace Australian vessels.

“Additionally, local seafarers and their shipowners and/or operators contribute to the local and state tax coffers, utilise domestic business and services, and are a part of the community. FOCs avoid all of these. And during these uncertain economic times, I would expect a government to bolster domestic jobs rather than attempt to eliminate them.”

More on the Australian Government’s coastal shipping reforms can be found HERE.