Unions stir fuel producers over shipping underpayments

Transpetrol vessel MT Turmoil. Source: Transpetrol

Union leaders have called for the Fair Work Ombudsman to hold fuel companies BP and Caltex accountable for the underpayment of workers aboard a contracted fuel vessel.

Workers were allegedly underpaid more than $255,000 while working aboard a Transpetrol vessel, the MT Turmoil oil tanker, which was

chartered by BP and Caltex while operating in Australian waters.

With 61 workers aboard the vessel, mostly of Indian or Filipino origin, the Maritime Union of Australia said allegations had been made that workers were paid the equivalent of $1.25 per hour in addition to allowances and overtime rates.

It was alleged that Transpetrol was obligated to pay rates ranging from $15.95 to $38.32 per hour under the Seagoing Industry Award and the National Minimum Wage Order.

The Fair Work Ombudsman stated that no allegations were levelled at Caltex or BP, however International Transport Federation Australian National Co-ordinator Dean Summers said Australian charterers should not be allowed to turn a blind eye to underpayments.

“Not only did Australian seafarers lose their jobs, the Norwegian shipping company paid their Indian and Filipino workers as little as $1.25 an hour,” Mr Summers said.

“The buck must stop with the Australian charterers of such coastal ships who rip-off international seafarers carrying their products in our domestic market.

“Australian companies like BP and Caltex cannot just look the other way when hiring replacement ships – they must be held accountable and should be prosecuted along with the Norwegian owners.”

A spokesperson for Caltex Australia told C&I Week that Caltex does take responsibility for the payment of seafarers who work vessels directly chartered by Caltex.

“Where Caltex is not the employer of the seafarers, Caltex ensures through its contracts that the operators of vessels pay seafarers at the applicable local rates according to local laws,” the spokesperson said.

“In the past, Caltex has been notified that the operator’s employees were entitled to additional compensation under the Fair Wage Act.

“In each instance, Caltex reimbursed the amount in full.

“Our chartering contracts do not provide any financial incentive for the operator to underpay their employees.”

Maritime Union of Australia national secretary and International Transport Federation President Paddy Crumlin blamed the Coalition Government and the chartering companies, and also raised the issue of national security.

“There are now no Australian crews moving fuel around the Australian coast which flies in the face of any credible national security plan,” he said.

“Unlike Australian seafarers, foreign crews have no background checks yet they are carrying petroleum products, ammonium nitrate and LNG around the Australian coast.

“More than half of Australia’s fuel comes through the Straits of Hormuz to Singapore and the narrow Straits of Malacca, an area already notorious for its piracy. Add to that the potential flashpoint in the South China Sea and it’s clear we should be refining at home and shipping fuel around the coast using Australian vessels and crews.

“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 Flag of Convenience 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.”

C&I Week understands that Caltex Australia chartered the vessel in 2013 from a third party, and

BP Australia declined an offer to make comment.

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