Fair Work Ombudsman drops case against MUA

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) dropped its landmark case against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and seven crew members of the Tandara Spirit on May 15.

The case related to alleged breaches of the Fair Work Act when the MUA and the seafarers failed to comply with orders from the Fair Work Commission in late 2014.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the FWO pulled its investigation after wasting the time and resources of the union and putting the workers through unacceptable stress and anxiety.

In November 2014, Viva Energy, which chartered the Tandara Spirit, informed the crew that its charter of the oil tanker would expire in January 2015 and ordered them to sail the vessel to Singapore to return it to its owners.

The crew members, backed by the MUA, refused to fuel the vessel in preparation for the voyage to Singapore, believing they would be replaced by exploited foreign crew. On November 14, the Fair Work Commission ordered the workers and the MUA to cease organising and participating in industrial action.

The FWO alleged that the seven crew members and the union breached the orders by refusing to sail the Tandara Spirit to Singapore. It eventually sailed on November 26 with a foreign crew.

The workers each faced a maximum penalty of $10,200 for each contravention and the MUA faced maximum penalties of up to $51,000 a contravention.

Crumlin said: “The FWO has used taxpayers’ money to go after unemployed Aussie seafarers who were sacked under the Abbott-Turnbull government’s controversial and widely-criticised policies that discriminate against Australian workers in favour of the use of international seafarers in our domestic jobs market.

“The FWO should be looking at ways for Australian workers to have jobs, then we wouldn’t be in this position. Instead, the FWO appears to be merely resorting to policy sycophancy to its political masters who have an ideological axe to grind against unions.”

MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray, who was on the ground in Victoria at the time, said it needs to be pointed out that nearly all the seafarers are still unemployed.

“While it is welcome news that these seafarers from the Tandara Spirit are no longer being prosecuted by the FWO, there are still no jobs for them to go to,” he said. “They were replaced under the watch of the Abbott-Turnbull government by exploited foreign labour and that hasn’t changed.”

Crumlin said: “The MUA had thought the $2 an hour paid to the exploited foreign seafarers who replaced the Tandara Spirit crew was the bottom of the barrel but a new low of $1.25 an hour on vessels hired by BP and Caltex was recently uncovered.

“The MUA has been saying for several years that BP ships move around 900,000 tonnes of fuel each year from its Kwinana Refinery in Western Australia to other cities in Australia and this work should be undertaken by Australian seafarers as it qualifies as coastal cargo.

“That’s the sort of thing the FWO should be going after, rather than an ideological frolic to try to stamp out unions and their workers at the behest of Eric Abetz and Michaelia Cash.”

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