By Tony Andrews
28 years of working on the seas around Australia and beyond are over.
As John Howard proudly boasted, “we’re going to destroy the livelihoods of Australian seafarers”. That’s not an exact quote, but I don’t really care, it’s done and it’s all been done because of ideology.
Because of an aversion to unions and the supposed political necessity of removing the ability of working people to bargain collectively with their employers, our elected representatives in government, our government, have overseen the destruction of my career and the careers of thousands of other tax paying voters.
Why have they allowed, actually, not just allowed, openly conspired with the giant, profit-driven overseas interests to condone the removal of our participation in this industry.
A highly profitable industry. An industry that until recently was considered vital to the economic security of our nation.
Our taxpayer roads are being destroyed daily by big business using thousands more trucks than are necessary to carry goods between Australian states, all to destroy Australian shipping.
There is no other reason.
It’s not cheaper to haul goods by road. It’s not more economical or safer.
It’s all about profit … and revenge.
The destruction of my industry has taken years. Years of planning. Years of removing, incrementally, the abilities of our representative unions to negotiate “in good faith” on behalf of the workforce.
Millions of dollars in contributions from workers spent fighting our own governments from legislation passed to increase the profit of overseas interests at the expense of their own tax paying citizens.
When the workforce defeats these changes, often all the way to the high court, “ministerial determinations” are enacted so the legal requirements and enforcement of the rulings can be ignored.
The worker cannot win.
All the years of training and certification, now useless.
All the experience on different types of commercial vessels, now of no practical use whatsoever.
What am I going to do? What are my mates going to do? How are we all meant to feed, clothe, and continue to provide a home for our families?
No one even seems to care …
It’s the sneakiness of it that really appals me.
Over time, our government removed their oversight of the industry. Once upon a time they controlled the labour, then forced everyone into company employment.
It was going to be better for all of us, more efficient for the industry and would also provide “job security” …
That worked out well.
Now no one has work, but the ships still keep coming in. We’ve been replaced with overseas labour on $2 an hour …
In our own country.
Our qualifications were for life, just like university degrees … except for registered nurses, their degree now has a 5-year expiry date, just like ours.
We went from having official, federal government issued, certificates of proficiency, with no expiration date and that carried a status similar to a passport, to a 5-year high risk style licence.
They even looked similar, with the Australian crest proudly displayed on the cover.
And we only needed the one certificate … it took 6 years of college and on the job training to acquire though. This allowed us to work on any ship and operate any machinery necessary for our operations.
Now we need shore-based certificates as well. Each one with a 5-year expiry.
We need 4 yearly security checks from the federal police and ASIO, we need 2 medicals every 2 years, if you’re over 55, you need 2 medicals every year.
Was it to increase safety?
It was a long-term plan to remove the participation of Australian workers from the lucrative offshore oil and gas industry and coastal shipping trade.
That is the only reason.
This is not some sort of conspiracy theory, big government and big business acting in concert with evil intent …
It’s commercial reality. Good or evil don’t come into it, only profit and the pursuit of free market ideology.
Many of my friends have been “on the beach”, that is, unemployed, for a few years now. I’m to follow them just before Christmas.
With no income, many highly skilled and highly qualified Australian men and women have been forced to allow their certificates to expire, with no hope of ever getting them back because, without current “sea time” you cannot renew them.
That, my fellow Australians, is the long-term plan.
With no qualified Australian seafarers left, the importation of foreign labour will be considered of vital importance to ensure our offshore resource industries and their economic importance are not compromised.
Our livelihoods and economic contributions (in taxes, skill set and experience) are not considered important.
My family is not considered important.
I’m a 50-year-old man with a young healthy family, a blessing in itself, after many years of waiting, but what now?
The way things are going it will be 20 years before I can draw on my superannuation.
After entering the workforce full-time at 16, my options for pursuing higher education are limited, and not just by time or money.
How has this been allowed to happen?
Who exactly do our elected representatives in government represent?
It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s me.