Maritime Union of Australia

The coordinator of the International Transport Workers Federation’s Australian inspectorate, Ian Bray, has slammed Australian Pacific Tours (APT), Sea Chefs and Delta Corp for deliberately avoiding the payment of wages owed to the crew in a shocking wage theft case aboard an Australian coastal tourism vessel operating between the ports of Broome, WA and Darwin, NT.

The MS Caledonian Sky is billed as one of Australia’s best known Kimberley cruise ships and operates a luxury cruising service for Australian Pacific Touring, an Australian company headquartered in Melbourne. The vessel, however, is registered in the Bahamas under a Flag of Convenience arrangement that allows it to skirt Australian taxes and standards.

The ship operates with a Temporary Licence issued under the Coastal Trading Act, which requires that the ship’s crew be paid Award wages while undertaking voyages authorised by the Temporary Licence.

The ITF’s inspection, undertaken at the port of Broome, revealed the ship’s crew of 76 has been underpaid approximately AUD$2 million over a 6 month period.

“There is no excuse for an Australian company operating an Australian service on the Australian coastline to be paying anything but Australian wages to its crew in line with the laws in this country, and the ITF will continue to pursue Australian Pacific Touring for this act of bastardry and social delinquency until each and every member of this crew is paid in full,” said the ITF’s Australian Inspectorate Coordinator, Ian Bray.

Under the Coastal Trading Act, vessels which predominantly operate on the Australian coast between Australian ports must pay their crews Australian wages, but some companies operating under Flag of Convenience registration arrangements believe the law does not apply to them.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Fair Work Ombudsman to gather evidence and then refer workplace matters aboard ships like the Caledonian Sky. Enforcement orders are then applied by the Fair Work Ombudsman if the wage theft is upheld.

The ITF understands that the crewing management company responsible for employing the seafarers aboard the ship is in the process of being sacked by the ship’s owner, in what is presumed as an attempt by APT to saddle the debt of owed wages to a company that ceases to have any employment relationship with the business and making it almost impossible for the existing crew members to recover their unpaid wages.

“Australian Pacific Touring makes tens of millions of dollars off the back of these hard-working seafarers, selling cruise packages that run to tens of thousands of dollars per person, but they are standing back and wiping their hands of their crew, who’ve been robbed collectively of almost $2 million,” said Bray.

The ITF has made formal compliant to AMSA, and the Fair Work Ombudsman and is working closely with each agency to ensure the crew of the Caledonian Sky are not robbed at sea by this rogue tourism company. The ITF reiterates its long standing call for the Federal Government to explore legislative reform that gives all the government agencies involved the powers to enforce and where necessary prosecute this type of wage theft. Part of the reforms being sought are to empower customs officers to deny clearing such vessels from leaving Australia until wages have been paid. This was a provision of the Navigation Act 1912 which was not picked up by the rewrite of the Act in 2012.

The ITF Australian inspectorate has so far recovered over $10 million USD in unpaid wages this calendar year, and the case of the Caledonian Sky is just one of dozens of examples in an industry that is guilty of rampant human rights abuses including systemic wage theft, appalling living conditions and violence and intimidation against seafarers in remote, dangerous workplaces.

/Public Release.