Rally to save MV Portland

January 29, 2016

About 300 unionists rallied on January 27 outside the Melbourne Liberal Party headquarters to demand an investigation into Alcoa's actions after the American-based company forcibly replaced Australian seafarers with foreign workers. A simultaneous rally in Sydney attracted about 100 workers.

Five crew members aboard Alcoa ship the MV Portland were woken at 1am on January 13 by up to 30 security guards, handed their passports and forcibly removed from the vessel. The guards then escorted aboard a replacement crew, believed to be foreign seafarers, who immediately began sailing the ship to Singapore.

The ship had been docked in the south-west Victorian port of Portland for two months in a dispute between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Alcoa. The dispute was triggered when the company sacked the 40 Australian crew who then refused to sail it to Singapore where it is to be scrapped.

The MV Portland, which has carried alumina between Western Australia and the smelter in Portland for 27 years. The route between WA and Victoria is still in operation. Alcoa has chartered foreign vessels with a foreign crew to ply the domestic route in contravention of the Coastal Trading Act 2012.

MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray told the rally that because it occurred in a Victorian port, the state government has a responsibility to hold an inquiry into the raid.

“There are still many unanswered questions as to why this was allowed to occur,” he said at the rally.

“We've seen no evidence that the replacement crew were competent, qualified or suitably trained. We don't know by what visa they were allowed to enter Australia.

“What we are sure of is that an operation as sophisticated as this, with the hired security, must have been planned in advance. Both the state and federal governments would have needed some knowledge to allow the security guards and the foreign crew into the maritime security zone.”

The federal government issued Alcoa with a temporary licence at the end of last year that enabled the company to circumnavigate the laws.

Bray said it was to be expected that profit-driven Alcoa would try to undermine Australian wages and conditions, but it was inexcusable that the government was complicit.

“This whole headache could go away with the swipe of a pen. The [Malcolm] Turnbull government could revoke the licence immediately and the 40 jobs the MV Portland generated would be returned,” he said.

Other speakers at the rally included MV Portland delegate Dale Eaton, Greens Senator Janet Rice, ACTU president Ged Kearney, CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor and Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilikari.

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