About 100 maritime workers and community members rallied at Fremantle's Victoria Quay on March 4 to demand the federal and state government act in support of the human rights of the crew of the Bader III, a live sheep carrier.
The workers on the Bader III and its sister ship, the Maysora, are owed about $400,000 in back pay. Their employer said it will only pay them out when they complete their contracts, which are typically nine to 12 months long.
Nearly all the vessels carrying general international cargo to or from Australian ports have crews from less developed countries. The 80 men on the Bader III are mostly Filipino and Pakistani.
Some vessels employ their seafarers under International Transport Federation (ITF) agreements, paying about $1600 a month plus rights to shore leave, maximum contract lengths and union representation.
But the crew of the Bader III are paid only $240 a month. They are also denied shore leave, the only opportunity they get to leave their work environment, phone their family, see a doctor or make contact with a union.
The workers' employment contract prohibits them from making contact with the ITF or any other union while in port, under the threat of an unspecified punishment as well as having their employment terminated and being flown home at their own expense.
ITF Australian coordinator Dean Summers told the March 5 Fremantle Herald: "[State and federal governments] have shown no support for the workers being intimidated.
“All we have heard from [them] is bullshit after bullshit, and if the federal and state governments feel powerless then the trade unions will have to sort it out."
Fremantle councillor Sam Wainwright said it is wrong that Australian industrial law prohibits workers from taking solidarity action to support the crew of the Bader III.
“The state and federal governments are sitting on their hands while workers in an Australian port are treated like prisoners or slaves.
“Yet if Australian workers show some solidarity with these seafarers by taking action against the maggots running this ship, they are liable to be fined for so-called secondary boycotts.”
Speaking to the rally, WA shadow minister for industrial relations Fran Logan called on the state government to cancel the ship's export licence.
Greens MLC Lynn McLaren, who is opposed to live sheep exports, said that it was in part the terrible working conditions on board such vessels that help make live exports competitive against the chilled meat trade.
The ITF is calling on Australia to sign the International Labour Organisation's conventions on the rights of seafarers. This would enable Australian authorities to step in. But, so far, the Gillard government has not committed to do this.
[Geoff Walton is an MUA member and delegate at the Fremantle Port Authority.]