Red Ensign Australia

Union leaders and researchers appearing before the Committee presented details on current maritime cabotage legislation worldwide and why a strong domestic maritime industry is critical to safeguarding Australia’s economic and national security, providing jobs, protecting the environment, and providing emergency assistance during natural disasters.

Jim Given, president of the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada and chair of the ITF’s Cabotage Task Force, told the inquiry that:
‘’I'm regularly reminded of how the Coasting Trade Act in Canada, and the Jones Act in the United States, are so integral to the overall success of our shipping industries and such a large contributor to the economies of both Canada and the United States of America. These policies are often regarded by our colleagues in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia as the gold standard for the protection of seafarers’ rights, and the safety of our domestic maritime industries. Not only do strong cabotage laws ensure that domestic seafarers retain their jobs, they are also tremendous catalysts of economic growth for countries with such policies in place”

In addition, Dave Heindel, secretary-treasurer of the Seafarers’ International Union of North America and chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section also highlighted the economic benefits of America’s maritime industry.

He also told the inquiry that the benefits of the US’ strong cabotage laws are not limited to economic and national security and that the Jones Act also helps to secure America’s borders in times of war, national emergency, or even in peacetime.

The case was also made that cabotage not only provides jobs for a country’s seafarers, but it also protects foreign seafarers against exploitation from the liberalisation in the global shipping industry and Flag of Convenience vessels, the owners of which usually pay sub-standard wages and flout safety laws.

Most ship owners want to earn as much money as possible, so if they can use cheaper crews they will do that. A lot of Norwegian ship owners changed their flags on their vessels and this issue has been escalating stated Johnny Hansen, president of the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union.

Moreover, ITF maritime co-ordinator Jacqueline Smith told Senators that the only ones benefitting from Flag of Convenience vessels are the shipowners. The delegation also presented arguments from opponents of cabotage laws who believe that if laws facilitate domestic shipping companies to charge higher rates that costs are passed on to consumers.

Finally, the delegation renewed the call from maritime unions attending the ITF Cabotage Task Force meeting in Sydney to act immediately to purchase the Aurora Australis, to enhance Australia’s disaster response capacity as a first step in the creation of a strategic fleet of Australian-crewed vessels and rejuvenate the Australian domestic shipping industry.