Nearly 80 Australian seafarers will likely be laid off after BHP and BlueScope Steel decided to remove the last two Australian-manned iron ore carriers, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said.
The two vessels, MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance, are planned to be removed from Australian coastal and international trade, according to Paddy Crumlin, MUA National Secretary.
As explained, the ships have serviced BHP and subsequently Bluescope steelworks in the country for more than 100 years. They move iron ore from BHP’s mining operations in Port Hedland to BlueScope’s steelworks in Port Kembla, then run coal to China before returning to Port Hedland and qualify as cabotage trade.
The union addressed a letter to the company in which it wrote: “The decision has the potential to devastatingly affect Australian seafarers and will see BlueScope’s supply chain effectively removing Australia labour from the local Australian industry, being replaced by highly exploited foreign crews paid as low as AUD 2 per hour.”
“The union understands there to be considerable availability of Cape Size Bulk vessels suitable for the BlueScope freight task currently performed by the MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance,” the letter says.
“We urge BlueScope to utilise Australian seafaring labour in its local supply chain. Australian seafarers have serviced BHP and subsequently Bluescope steel works in this country for more than 100 years.”
The concerns around using foreign workers also involve lack of oversight of their rights and severe underpayment with hourly rates as low as $2.
Given that the current shipping arrangements do not expire between BHP and Bluescope until June this year, the reasons behind the decision remain unclear, according to the MUA.
The union has requested a meeting with BlueScope, BHP, maritime unions and the AWU to ascertain the real facts behind BHP’s decision cancel current shipping arrangements and to further discuss what will occur between now and June.