Seafarers demand unpaid wages

February 6, 2010

The crew on board the Tien Hau in the South Australian regional port of Wallaroo have had to resort to fishing for their meals. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) is calling for the $47,000 backpay owed to them in to be paid in full.

But the Hong Kong shipping line Fenwick Shipping has refused to meet the ITF and there is now concern the ship will try to leave port under the cover of darkness without paying the wages owed.

"The 14-year-old vessel is a floating sweatshop", said Matt Purcell, ITF assistant coordinator in Australia. "It has not been paying the Chinese crew on board in compliance with the ITF national agreement; the crew's amenities are in a disgraceful state and food stocks are so low in the galley the crew have been fishing at the berth to supplement their diet."

The Tien Hau is loading wheat from the Australian Barley Board bound for Papua New Guinea. Purcell said the 22 crew are owed three months' backpay and all wages owing must be paid up before the ship sails.

"ITF affiliates are deciding appropriate action if this is not the case", Purcell said. "Too many dodgy ship owners pass under the radar and treat their crews in a way Australians would never accept."

Meanwhile, the MT Ocean Winter, discharging fuel in the Port of Adelaide, is also in dispute with the ITF after the 28 Chinese, Indonesian and South Korean crew told the ITF they had not been paid for three months.

"The crew are owed over US$60,000 and the ship shouldn't be going anywhere until they are paid", said Purcell.

As part of an ITF blitz on South Australian shipping, the ITF team boarded the Kumano Lilly bulk carrier at the Port of Adelaide and obtained an agreement from the Burmese and Filipino crew to have their rock-bottom wages doubled.

The Kumano Lilly crew were being paid wages below the International Labor Organisation's rate of about $930 a month and one cadet was receiving just $300 a month.

On February 1, crew on board the Mount Owen, loading gypsum in the Port of Thevenard, threatened strike action unless their $37,000 leave payments were made before the ship returns to China.

[Abridged from a February 2 article.]

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