Will Australia Kick-The-Can On Sustainable Funding For Seafarer Welfare?
Seafarers’ working lives, wellbeing, and the upholding of a fair and reasonable recuperating environment ashore pivots on this much needed but simple development to use existing maritime levy funds for good. The solution and legal pathway have already been proven and it can be achieved with a simple committed focus with the setting aside of political point scoring, and a deliberate avoidance of vested self-interest.
A core interest of both coastal states and the multi-trillion $ shipping industry must be the seafarer, associated supply chain workers and de facto support to their respective families; not a primary focus on profit or deliberate and/or inadvertent absence to be party to the upholding of access to sustainable welfare support.
Strategically, state-level opportunity for both national and regional leadership in terms of a concerted focus on legislative surety for welfare needs through assured access to, and use of, existing maritime levy funding must not be ducked through lack of co-ordinated action or failure of political will.
Time is of the essence.
This issue is relatively low hanging ‘political fruit’ with global consequences for the improvement of worker’s lives especially as the world recovers from the COVID pandemic and more than ever, goods must travel by sea while finite natural resources must be both conserved and carefully exploited. This requires not just vessels, platforms, and associated technology, but people to operate, maintain and sustain them.
“The challenges of providing welfare services in a COVID-19 environment have highlighted the need for a more secure funding approach.” New Zealand Minister of Transport, the Honourable Michael Wood April 2021.
It is not as if this matter is a minor problem, a challenging first or a complex legal drafting exercise.
The precedent set by the New Zealand Government in July 2021 in amending and enacting primary legislation, the 1994 Maritime Transport Act, resulted in a unique state-level pathway to assure that seafarer welfare needs, and associated costs can now be sourced from the existing maritime levy funding stream.
“insert: (c) the facilitation of, or support for, seafarer welfare services.”
New Zealand grasped the seminal opportunity in 2020-2021 following justified lobbying by the NZ Seafarer Welfare Board in turn supported by Human Rights at Sea’s March 2020 report ‘New Zealand: Under-Funding of Seafarers’ Welfare Services and Poor MLC Compliance’ and Counsel’s opinion.
In doing so, co-ordinated advocacy efforts delivered a minor drafting update to primary legislation resulting in a historic change that ongoing outlays for seafarer centres, staff and associated costs would no longer be borne through fundraising, dedicated pro bono local community volunteering efforts, or the seemingly perpetual requirement to ‘shake the can’ at donors for much-needed dollars.
The source of funds to support ongoing seafarer welfare needs are available today. That is the deeply frustrating fact.
Nonetheless, every day that the welfare can is kicked forward without targeted effort, is another day that seafarers are let down and their value undermined.
The real question is whether, or not, the new Australian government and associated stakeholders will be publicly committed to, willing and be accountable for:
- Updating current legislation to require explicit use of maritime levy funds for welfare purposes thereby assuring long-term sustainability in law, not just policy.
- Driving internal co-ordination and accountability for change across applicable government departments.
- Resourcing and empowering the required staff to co-ordinate funding administration and its fair allocation year-on-year, and
- Delivering the necessary long-term change – just as the New Zealand Government did.
Legal Review and Counsel’s Opinion
Human Rights at Sea has undertaken a legislative review and issued a supporting counsel’s opinion identifying the need for legislative update. It has included suggested text and regulation amendment.
Human Rights at Sea continues to both progressively and collaboratively advocate for legislative updates, effective policy development, and the practical implementation of existing maritime levy funds for sustainable welfare funding of workers by coastal states around the World.
Working in co-ordination with willing stakeholders through provision of independent reports supported by leading Counsel’s opinion reflecting existing international and national law, our charitable NGO does not see why such industry-wide change cannot be rapidly brought about?
Meantime, stakeholder positions which articulate deflecting narratives that such a change is; “complex”, requires “significant buy-in” to work, “is not currently needed”, requires “standing up a new committee” or requires “pilot initiatives” to be successful, must be called out for what they truly are; a selfish apathy masquerading as due process – in failing to assure the welfare of seafarers and their families ashore.
Call to Action
Human Rights at Sea urges coastal states to reinforce political will and national legislative pathways to assure sustainable and long-term welfare support in law through existing maritime levy structures.