HRAS Pursues Australian Legislative Change For Long-Term Maritime Levy Seafarer Support
In the past months, Human Rights at Sea, along with in-country partners, has been discreetly pursuing its Maritime Levy Campaign in Australia. This is focused on following-up on recent State-level success in New Zealand updating national legislation for all seafarer welfare centers to be sustainably funded through a dedicated maritime levy contribution.
Work to date has included outreach to Ministers and MPs at State and Federal level requesting a specific focus on this issue. It has further included having the topic placed on influential stakeholders’ agendas for Board discussion and subsequent action.
HRAS has provided recipients with papers highlighting the precedent, process, and outcome of the change in the New Zealand 1994 Maritime Transport Act as of 1 July 2021 as both a legal precedent, and an effective call-to-arms on the matter.
The COVID Pandemic has brought both the human and labour rights challenges faced by seafarers and fishers to the forefront of international public awareness, albeit not by policy design but by unintended consequence.
In 2020, human rights concerns emerged as a key agenda item for the UN Secretary General and UN Agencies where its cause-and-effect became referred to as a “humanitarian crisis” at sea.
In the background, HRAS has been building a coalition-of-the-willing for an ongoing collective global effort to accelerate social justice in-sector.
This is being undertaken and achieved through policy and legislative changes to assure that seafarer and fisher welfare services in coastal states become sustainably run, without the need for almost total reliance on donations and philanthropic grants.
HRAS CEO, David Hammond, commented: “A $17 trillion US dollar industry with a work force the size of the combined populations of Adelaide and Newcastle is keeping global supply chains running, your choice of mobile phone and food on shelves, oil and gas in the refineries, and pandemic PPE in-stock. So why do organisations supporting seafarers and fishers have to often rely on donations to survive while providing such essential welfare support services?”.
In 2000, a Seafarers Welfare Forum was hosted in Melbourne by Stella Maris and the Mission to Seafarers and sponsored by the Australian Government Department of Transport and Regional Services. The Forum determined that the significant hurdle to improving seafarers’ welfare was a lack of funding.
It determined that funding the provision of services to meet the needs of seafarers was seen to be essential. However, it was then perceived that there was resistance within the maritime industry to such funding initiatives.
The funding options proposed included:
- A levy on ships visiting ports
- Federal government contribution
- Levy on ship operators
- A wharfage fee
User pays system, and/or an industry contribution
To date, no action on any of these options has ever been taken.
At the June 2019 Australian Seafarers Welfare Council meeting, the Gladstone Mission to Seafarers Manager and Port Welfare Committee Chair advised ASWC members of the impending closure of the Gladstone Mission.
Despite the Mission being well-patronized and managed, they would be required to close their doors due to financial debt of almost $50,000 and require an additional $50,000 to remain open until the end of the year.
The Manager presented a business model which would see them open for the next three years, with additional Gladstone Port funding of $80,000 committed for the next six years. It was only through the 11th-hour, $100,000 donation from the Queensland Government that allowed the Mission to keep their doors open and able to realize their long-term funding model.
The recent Thetius- Inmarsat report: “A Fair Future for Seafarers?” states on page 32:
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to the question of funding services. Under MLC, member states who have ratified the convention should be responsible for ensuring that welfare facilities and services are provided in appropriate ports, and determine how they are to be financed. Unfortunately, these aspects to the convention are not mandatory, and very little has changed since its introduction.
However, after a significant lobbying effort from international charities (Merchant Navy Welfare Board, UK and Human Rights at Sea) and the national seafarer welfare board, the New Zealand government announced an amendment to the Maritime Transport Act to fund seafarer centres. By the middle of this year, government levies charged to visiting ships will be used to fund the ongoing development and operation of the ten seafarer centres in the country. This sets a precedent for developed governments around the world to follow and demonstrates the power of a coordinated approach to lobbying for sustainable funding for seafarer services.
Welfare Support Requirements
The evidence of mounting suicides at sea due to mental health issues, exacerbated by the COVID crew change crisis, would suggest that attention should now be focused on wellness at sea.
This is not only out of concern for the welfare of seafarers, but also to consider their safety performance in the environment in which they work; to ensure they are able to take care of the ship and its cargo.
It is well-known that the quality of life at sea for the seafarer affects the safety of their lives and others, safety of the ship and its cargo, and safety of the environment.
To actively address the welfare of the seafarer, is not just in the interest of the seafarer, but also in the best interest of all stakeholders in the maritime industry to act and do so decisively.
The days of seafarer welfare providers attempting to survive on donations and piece-meal grants are over.
Shipping is a USD$ 17 Trillion industry, according to the International Chamber of Shipping, and recent record profit levels in some key sections of the industry demonstrate the expanding disparity between profit over people.
It is now time for those who profit from the global shipping industry to fairly give secured financial support to those organisations who have traditionally been directly involved in the essential role of helping assure the well-being of those at sea.