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Arbitrary quarantine of dockers in Northern Australia set a dangerous precedent, ITF calls for their immediate release

20 Jun 2021
Press Release
Photo: Landbridge Group

The Northern Territory’s Department of Health has gone beyond its authority — and scientific sense — in locking 13 dockers in quarantine. The action sets a dangerous precedent for dockers in Australia and around the world.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) calls for the immediate release of the dock workers, and for a consistent and transparent application of quarantine rules.

The 13 dockers have been in the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin in Northern Australia since June 11, despite operating safely within Covid regulations. A mandatory 14-day lock-up was imposed on them following their work on Singapore-flagged container ship Tacoma Trader (IMO 9675810).

“This decision to quarantine these workers has all the tell-tale signs of a pure bureaucratic bungle, and now 13 dockers remain locked up in quarantine despite the fact not a single Covid case has been detected on the vessel,” said ITF Dockers' Section Coordinator, Enrico Tortolano.

“It sets a dangerous precedent because now dock workers across Australia will worry that arbitrary quarantines will be imposed on them beyond what regulations permit. That could have a knock-on effect on the efficient working of docks all over Australia,” added Tortolano.

NT Health refused to undertake Covid-19 testing of the Tacoma Trader crew for almost a week despite insistence from the seafarers, the ITF, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the vessel's operator. None of the crew and none of the dockers have tested positive. The vessel had been declared safe, the dockers were wearing the appropriate PPE and following stringent Covid-19 safety protocols. The dock workers never came into contact with the crew of the ship.

NT Health imposed quarantine on the basis that surfaces on the ship may have been contaminated. But the science is clear: Covid-19 may survive for several days on surfaces, but not for the extended period that a ship is at sea.

“As far as we’re concerned, the dockers behaved in the same way with this ship as they have with every previous ship since the start of Covid-19 rules,” said Tortolano. “Now the authorities are imposing new requirements without common sense, without legislation, and without any consultation with workers, their representatives or employers. To be frank, their actions are not even in line with good scientific advice.”

The ITF Dockers’ Section fully supports the MUAs fight for the release of its members, and in exposing the inconsistent application of safety standards by NT Health. It calls on the Australian Federal and Northern Territory governments to ensure the rights and safety of all workers, and not force workers into quarantine facilities without due cause.

The unions will continue to monitor the situation and expose any inconsistent application of safety standards that threaten the rights or safety of dock workers or international seafarers on Flag of Convenience ships bringing vital supplies to Australia.

The ITF also reiterated its call for Federal and State governments in Australia to implement the recommended protocols for ensuring safe crew changes issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Media contact: media@itf.org.uk