By ABC Online, 07 July 2014

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) will appeal against a Fair Work Commission ruling ordering a stop to industrial action on an oil tanker docked in Devonport, in north-west Tasmania.

The Alexander Spirit was due to leave for Singapore last Friday, but the ship’s 36 Australian crew members refused to set sail.

Caltex Australia said it no longer needed the tanker to transport fuel between domestic ports and the crew had been told they would be replaced with a foreign crew on a new international route.

The ship’s operator, Teekay Australia, asked the commission to intervene in the case at a hearing in Sydney.

The union argued that some crew members were not fit to make the journey because of mental strain.

Handing down his decision, Commissioner Ian Cambridge said the dispute constituted unprotected industrial action and he ordered it to stop.

He said “the prospect of some abstract psychological condition does not translate into a risk to health and safety” and was not grounds for an exemption under the act.

Hearing told worker had ‘breakdown’

Social worker Gavin Kelso has been counselling several of the crew members and gave evidence to the commission via phone from the ship.

He told the hearing several crew members were extremely distressed and anxious about the situation and he was worried their emotional state could affect their ability to do their job.

Mr Kelso said one man suffered a breakdown on Tuesday morning.

“His demeanour was very low, his mood was very low,” he told the commission.

“He was distraught and upset about the prospect of his family situation.

“He was concerned about his ability to perform his job and said it was hard for him to keep his mind on the job. He also told me he’s thought about suicide.”

Mr Kelso told the commission other crew members were distressed, emotional and concerned about their financial situation if they lost their jobs.

“I have serious concerns about their wellbeing while doing that journey to Singapore,” he said.

There is evidence… that the MUA has organised the industrial action. There’s no evidence of any crew member having raised concerns about their health and safety.

Simon Meehan, Teekay’s lawyer

MUA lawyer Steve Crawshaw, told the commission the crew members were not taking industrial action but were simply concerned for their health and safety.

“If crew members haven’t got their mind on the job there’s clearly a health and safety risk,” he said.

But the lawyer for Teekay Australia, Simon Meehan, argued that the crew members were engaging in illegal industrial action and asked the commission to order them back to work.

“It is plain that there has been a refusal to perform work by members of the crew,” he said.

“There is evidence … that the MUA has organised the industrial action.

“There’s no evidence of any crew member having raised concerns about their health and safety.”

Ruling angers port protesters

Victorian seaman Matt Leach, who has been among the protesters in Devonport, was disappointed but not surprised by the commission’s ruling.

The Fair Work Act…it ain’t that fair and the Federal Liberal Government are making it even more so.

Matt Leach, Victorian seaman

“What I’m angry about is the fact that we’ve got a Federal Government – the Abbott Liberal Government – that’s supporting these foreign oil companies in getting rid of Australian workers, that’s what makes me mad,” he said.

“The Fair Work Act … it ain’t that fair and the Federal Liberal Government are making it even more so.

“They could change it and instead now they’re trying to introduce legislation to completely deregulate Australian shipping and get rid of more Australian workers.”

Mr Leach believes more companies will follow Caltex’s lead.

“Mobs like Caltex, BP, Exon Mobil, Shell, Viva, all these major oil companies just see it as a green light to finish us up,” he said.

Protestor Samantha Bond is also concerned about the ruling’s impact.

“I’m feeling very concerned about the crew, very concerned about their health and wellbeing,” she said.

“We think that what’s happened is terribly wrong.

“If they choose to continue to stand strong, then we’re going to support them all the way. It’s very sad news that that hasn’t been supported by the decision by the commission but that’s not to say that the decision is the right decision.”

On Monday, national union heavyweights led a rally through Devonport streets, where protesters were cheered on by members of the public.

Ms Bond said it was by no means the end of the protest.

“I think it’s a much bigger issue, it’s to do with the Federal Government and it’s to do with them basically giving the green light to these companies to do whatever they like with Australian jobs,” she said.

“That’s a much bigger battle and that’s one we’re not going to walk away from anytime soon.”

It is not clear how long the 36 crew members will remain in Devonport.

The company is due to make a statement on Wednesday.

Extracted in full from ABC Online.

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