February 27, 2024

ITF’s Nowhere to Hide Week of Action to be expanded to New Zealand ports as Inspectors stamp out rampant wage theft

MUNZ representatives including Mick Williams, Holly Payne, Jake Wilson and Craig Harrison recently took part in this ITF campaign and training in Australian ports alongside the MUA. Many of the ships and situations are familiar in NZ waters.

The Campaign has been implemented to raise awareness of the treatment of international seafarers and wage theft occurring on foreign-registered ships.

The International Transport Workers Federation’s Australian Inspectorate has announced that its Nowhere to Hide campaign will be expanded to capture New Zealand ports in a new cooperative arrangement between maritime workers unions in the South Pacific.

The announcement comes off the back of a massive outcome during the ITF’s Week of Action in southern ports of Australia in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia which the Maritime Union of New Zealand sent a delegation of ITF volunteers and seen for themselves what actually occurs on FOC ships. 

Bolstering the work of the ITF’s Inspectorate were two Australian Labor Senators who signed up as ITF Volunteers and joined the ‘Nowhere to Hide’ campaign targeting wage thieves, human rights abusers and dangerous vessels operating in Australian waters.

Labor Senators Tony Sheldon and Glenn Sterle, both with a lifetime of work and advocacy in the transport sector, joined the inspections which targeted shipowners and agents who systematically steal the wages of vulnerable seafarers aboard cargo ships that deliver more than 95% of Australia’s imports and exports.

During the Week of Action, across 74 inspections in three states, the ITF Inspectorate identified $5.4 million in stolen wages.

Wage theft from seafarers aboard cargo ships in Australian waters is on the rise. In many cases, historical legislative and regulatory frameworks in our country made this possible, and shipowners have been emboldened by the disinterest in policing these crimes by former Liberal and National Governments.

This year alone, across more than 700 inspections by the ITF’s Australian Inspectorate, more than US$16 million in stolen wages has been recovered on behalf of vulnerable and exploited foreign seafarers.

“Some of the greatest acts of international piracy are committed by shipowners against their own crews, and the latest weapon the ITF will deploy against these thieves are Senators with a background in the transport industry who know first-hand what these seafarers are up against, ” said Ian Bray, the ITF’s Australian Inspectorate Coordinator.

Senator Tony Sheldon and Senator Glenn Sterle underook the Australian Inspectorate’s training programme to become ITF volunteers, and went up the gangways of ships in Melbourne last week to check records of payment, living conditions aboard, and ensure medical care and shore leave is being provided to crews.

“We were keen to put into action what we learned about the plight of vulnerable seafarers aboard international cargo ships in our ports. As ITF volunteers we went up the gangways of these ships and performed thorough workplace inspections, audits of payments, and ensured the laws and standards which govern international shipping in Australia were being met, said Senator Tony Sheldon, from New South Wales.

“ITF Inspectors do more than recover stolen wages. They are on the frontline ensuring important safety standards are met, that medical care is provided to sick or injured seafarers, and that the human rights of visiting seafarers are respected in Australia ports by employers and terminal operators, including access to shore leave and repatriation,” said Senator Glenn Sterle, from Western Australia.

Today’s announcement, expanding the Nowhere to Hide Campaign to New Zealand ports, is being made in conjunction with the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) and will make it harder for rogue shipping operators to bring unsafe ships through the South Pacific or to systematically steal from their crews.

“We are proud to join with the ITF’s Australian Inspectorate in the Nowhere to Hide Campaign and take a stand against the bastardry and criminality that is rampant within the international shipping cartels who send vessels to Australia and New Zealand,” said Craig Harrison, from MUNZ. “Neither the Australian nor Kiwi people will tolerate mistreatment or abuse of vulnerable seafarers, so our warning to the owners of these ships of shame is that we will find you, catch you and hold you to account,” Mr Harrison said.

ITF Inspectors also enforce rules that permit international seafarers to be repatriated home at the cost of their employer and meet with crews to identify and stamp out bullying, harassment, intimidation and other workplace issues on board the thousands of ships which call into Australian ports each year.

The Robbed at Sea report, published by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work in 2022, set out the systematic exploitation of vulnerable international seafarers working in Australian waters.

It found that:

1.       70% of ships carrying imports and exports fail to meet minimum international standards for wage payment

2.       $38 million in stolen wages were recovered over a ten year period by the ITF Inspectorate conducting spot checks at Australian ports.

3.       Flag of Convenience vessels are usually registered in low-wage, developing countries, with limited power to resist exploitation by unethical ship owners, contractors and sub-contractors.

“The Albanese Government is working with us to rebuild Australian shipping and ensure more ships fly our flag, employ our workers and pay fair, Australian wages, but there are hundreds of internationally owned ships operating in our waters today that systematically steal the hard earned wages of seafarers from some of the world’s poorest nations, and this is done not only on Australia’s doorstep but in our name as Australian consumers, so the ITF and the MUA are working to stamp this out and see justice delivered to these workers while they are in our ports,” said MUA National Secretary and ITF President Paddy Crumlin.

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