Hundreds protest against Rio Tinto sacking seafarers

February 19, 2016
MUA members and supporters march through Brisbane to Rio Tinto offices.

More than 400 workers from several unions, notably the CFMEU, took their fight straight to billion dollar miner Rio Tinto for its complicity in sacking Australian seafarers and replacing them with foreign workers, who are paid as little as $2 an hour.

On February 5 in the Port of Newcastle, five crew members were marched down the gangway of the CSL Melbourne by more than 30 police. Those same police escorted the foreign replacement crew onto the ship to sail it away.

The CSL Melbourne had carried alumina from Gladstone to Newcastle for Rio Tinto's subsidiary Pacific Aluminium for more than five years.

The route between Queensland and New South Wales is still being used, but the company received a temporary licence from the federal government, which meant the Australian crew could be replaced by exploited foreign seafarers not subject to the same rights and conditions as their Australian counterparts.

The rally began outside Brisbane's Central Station and made its way through the city to Rio's offices. CFMEU assistant state secretary Jade Ingham, Queensland Council of Unions secretary Ros McLennan, ACTU president Ged Kearney, Electrical Trades Union assistant secretary Peter Ong and sacked seafarer from the MV Portland Dale Eaton spoke to the crowd.

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Queensland deputy branch secretary Jason Miners said the federal government was complicit in Rio Tinto's actions by granting them a licence to exploit a loophole in domestic shipping legislation.

“Rio made US$806 million profit in just six months,” he said. “A massive chunk of that $806 million was made here from the minerals that all Australians own, and we're being repaid by being unceremoniously sacked from our jobs. To me that's abhorrent.

“These jobs aren't offshored, they still exist. However, Pacific Aluminium have been given the green light by the government to have foreign ships of shame with dodgy environmental, safety and labour practices on our coastal trade.”

MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray, along with Queensland assistant secretary Paul Gallagher and Kearney then marched into the Rio Tinto offices and handed a letter to the management demanding replacement jobs for the displaced seafarers.

Following the brief meeting in the foyer, surrounded by hundreds of angry workers, Bray reported that Rio has agreed to meeting with the MUA and other maritime unions.

"We will continue to agitate. We will continue to organise. We will continue to push the fight, not only here, but around the country, wherever we have to go to make sure our message and our voices are heard," he said.

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