Australia’s FWO Taking Transpetrol to Court for Underpaying Crew

  • As JAXPORT Enhances Service to Asia

Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) said that it has launched legal action against a Norwegian shipping company Transpetrol TM As alleging it underpaid foreign crew while they were working in Australian waters.

The company is suspected of underpaying 61 crew members more than USD 255,000 and is facing the Federal Court in Sydney. Specifically, the crew is said to be paid as little as $1.25 per hour in relation to base rates.

Under the Fair Work Act the crew were entitled to the minimum entitlements that applied under Australia’s Seagoing Industry Award and National Minimum Wage Order.

As such, Transpetrol was obligated to pay 58 of the crew minimum hourly rates of between $15.95 and $30.66 and overtime rates of between $19.94 and $38.32 per hour.  Other three foreign crew members were entitled to be paid base rates of up to $16.87 per hour.

The incident dates back to a period between 2013 and 2015 when the crew, Indian and Filipino nationals, including a number of young workers aged 21, were working on the MT Turmoil oil tanker in Australian waters.

According to FWO, the oil tanker conducted a series of coastal trading voyages in Australian territorial waters between ports in Perth, Adelaide, Burnie, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin and the island of Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, under charter by two Australian companies, BP Australia and Caltex.

No allegations are made against BP Australia or Caltex.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said the agency investigated following a request for assistance from one of the crew members.

“All businesses operating in Australia need to be aware of their employees’ lawful entitlements,” Campbell said.

“Irrespective of their country of origin, employers, workers and unions are all equal in the eyes of the law when they operate in Australian workplaces.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman added that it would assert in court that the Fair Work Act extends to a temporary licenced ship for any voyages carried out under that licence after two initial voyages have been completed, provided the two initial voyages were completed within the preceding 12 months.

Campbell said the 61 foreign crew members have now been back-paid in full but the decision was made to commence legal action because of the significant amount involved for vulnerable foreign workers.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is seeking court issued penalties against Transpetrol for three alleged contraventions of the Fair Work Act. The company faces penalties of up to $51,000 per contravention.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking a court order requiring Transpetrol to provide a maritime industry factsheet to its crew members when operating in Australian waters in future.

“The Turnbull Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to the IEA 90-day storage rules and BP Australia and Caltex should also be held responsible given they have in recent years replaced Australian-manned ships with FOC vessels flagged in notorious tax havens such as Panama.”

“Until now, the MUA thought the $2/hour paid to the exploited foreign seafarers who replaced the Tandara Spirit was the bottom of the barrel but we’ve now found a new low of $1.25/hr. This is regulated slavery in a race to the bottom and it has to stop,” MUA National Secretary and ITF President Paddy Crumlin said.

In the meantime, The US Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) has expanded its service to Asia as part of Hamburg Süd’s new Asia – North America East Coast rotation.

JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal now serves as the last port of call for the container shipping company’s service which is offered through the 2M Alliance.

Vessels in the rotation offer service from Jacksonville to Busan in South Korea as well as Qingdao, Xingang, Shanghai and Ningbo in China.

“The Asian container trade continues to be the fastest growing segment of JAXPORT’s container cargo business, achieving 19 percent growth in 2016,” JAXPORT said.

In February, JAXPORT renewed an agreement with the Panama Canal Authority (ASP) pledging to continue working to market the advantages of shipping cargo between Asia and JAXPORT through the Panama Canal.

World Maritime News