CSL Yarra crew sit-in to save jobs

Issue 

BY SHANE BENTLEY

Seventeen seafarers aboard the CSL Yarra docked in Port Pirie, South Australia, began a sit-in on May 1 in an attempt to stop Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) replacing them with poorly paid Ukrainian labour.

Maritime unions are opposed to the sale of the bulk cement carrier to CSL's Asian subsidiary, CSL Pacific. The sale took place on May 4. The company has re-registered the vessel in the Bahamas, which will allow it to operate on the Australian coast as a flag of convenience ship.

CSL Pacific has threatened legal action against the CSL Yarra's crew if they did not leave the vessel by 5pm on May 8.

The ship's engineers, members of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, complied. However, nine Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members have vowed to stay aboard and fight "for the continuing existence of the Australian merchant fleet".

The company's shipping agent shut off the ship's generators on May 2, leaving the crew without electricity, water, refrigeration, working toilets, air-conditioning and cooking facilities. The agent was subsequently trapped on the Port Pirie dock for hours by a union picket line.

CSL Pacific has applied for injunctions to evict the MUA members from the vessel and prevent anyone from boarding the ship without written consent.

The federal government has allowed the sale to go ahead, as part of its plan to deregulate Australian coastal shipping and to undermine the maritime unions.

The Coalition government has also attempted to undermine "cabotage" — the system in which only Australian seafarers can crew ships registered in Australia that carry cargo between Australian ports — by issuing single voyage permits and continuous voyage permits to various shipping companies.

The CSL Yarra is one of 32 ships that were once part of the government-owned Australian National Line fleet that was privatised by the federal Labor government in 1995. All but a few of these ships now sail as flag of convenience ships.

The CSL Yarra's reflagging means that there are now just 46 Australian-registered vessels working the national coastline, down from 78 in 1994.

In Sydney, a rally of 150 workers took place on May 6 outside CSL's head office in North Sydney. In Melbourne on May 8, MUA members picketed the CSL Yarra's sister ship the CSL Pacific. Australian Workers Union members have refused to unload cement from the CSL Pacific and have called on cement companies to stop using foreign-flagged vessels.

On May 9, hundreds joined a rally outside 26 South Wharf, 750 Lorimer Street, South Melbourne, where the CSL Pacific is berthed. A picket of the wharf continues.

Messages of support can be faxed to the crew of the CSL Yarra on (08) 8633 2378.

From Green Left Weekly, May 15, 2002.
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