Australia’s Fairwork Commission has ruled in favour of Teekay Shipping that crew on board the Caltex-chartered tanker Alexander Spirit must sail to Singapore.
The tanker had been carrying fuel on the Australian coast, but will now be replaced by international ships carrying fuel imports into Australia.
On 10 July, the commission dismissed an appeal by the Maritime Union of Australia against its earlier decision ordering the crew to return to work.
The Alexander Spirit had been berthed in Devonport, Tasmania, for 10 days after the MUA crew refused to sail the vessel to Singapore where they are to be replaced by international crew.
In his ruling that the sit-in was unlawful industrial action, the commissioner said: “Although I may personally have great sympathy for the crew of the Alexander Spirit, the predicament that these individuals face is, 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.”
Rod Nairn, CEO of Shipping Australia, representing international shipping, said in a statement it was sad to see the loss of jobs in the Australian maritime sector. However, he said the cost of domestic shipping had led to import substitution.
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“It is little wonder why shipping companies are reluctant to fly the Australian flag when, if a freight contract expires, they can’t remove their ship from Australia without facing industrial action, delays and financial losses,” Nairn said.
MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said in a release on 10 July: “This move by Caltex was driven purely by the desire for increased profit.
“The company today posted a 45% increase in half yearly profit to AUD 251 million (USD 188 million) yet at the same time they are sacking 36 honest Australian workers onboard the Alexander Spirit.
“We’re disappointed by today’s decision but we’ll continue to stand up and fight for Aussie jobs.”
The sit-in has attracted media coverage nationally over the loss of Australian jobs and the dangers of Australia becoming reliant on imports of fuel. Australia is already down to four refineries and two Australian-crewed vessels carrying fuel around the country’s coast, compared to eight refineries and 11 vessels in 1996, the union said.
The higher efficiency and lower costs of refining crude oil elsewhere in Asia has prompted oil majors to shut refineries Down Under.