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ITF’s 'Nowhere to Hide' Campaign shines a light on wage theft on the Australian coast

news Press Release 21 Nov 2023

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) has re-launched its ‘Nowhere to Hide’ campaign this week in Melbourne, Australia, and commenced a fresh week of action across Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian ports.

The Week of Action targets shipowners and agents that systematically steal the wages of seafarers aboard the cargo ships that deliver more than 95 percent of the goods which Australia’s community depends on.

Wage theft from seafarers aboard cargo ships in Australian waters is on the rise. In many cases, the legislative and regulatory framework in our country makes this possible.

“International shipowners are on notice that the ITF Inspectorate will be conducting spot checks of their vessels throughout Australian waters and ensuring they meet their legal, social and ethical obligations," said Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and President of the ITF.

"So far, we have recovered millions upon millions of dollars of stolen wages for some of the world’s most vulnerable workers, and we will pursue this relentlessly in defiance of employers and shipowners who seek to profiteer in such an unprincipled and immoral manner.”

This year alone, across more than 600 inspections by the ITF’s Australian Inspectorate, more than US$14 million in stolen wages has been recovered on behalf of exploited foreign seafarers.

“Some of the greatest acts of international piracy are committed by shipowners against their own crews,” said Ian Bray, the ITF’s Australian Inspectorate Coordinator.

“In many cases they roll the dice and steal their workers’ wages because of a historical failure by governments of yesteryear to properly police Australian employment law in Australian waters. That is why we continue to advocate for stronger regulation, legislation and expanded enforcement resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority so that this can be stamped out for good” Bray explained.

The ITF and the MUA call on the Australian Government to join the fight against modern slavery aboard international ships operating in and out of Australian ports.

The Robbed at Sea report, published by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work in 2022, set out the systematic exploitation of vulnerable international seafarers working in Australian waters.

It found that:

  • 70 percent of ships carrying imports and exports fail to meet minimum international standards for wage payment.
  • $38 million in stolen wages were recovered over a ten year period by the ITF Inspectorate conducting spot checks at Australian ports.
  • Flag of Convenience vessels are usually registered in low-wage, developing countries, with limited power to resist exploitation by unethical ship owners, contractors and sub-contractors.

“The Albanese Government is working with us to rebuild Australian shipping and ensure more ships fly our flag, employ our workers and pay fair, Australian wages, but there are hundreds of internationally owned ships operating in our waters today that systematically steal the hard earned wages of seafarers from some of the world’s poorest nations," said Crumlin.

This is done not only on Australia’s doorstep but in our name as Australian consumers, so the ITF and the MUA are working to stamp this out and see justice delivered to these workers while they are in our ports.”

The Nowhere to Hide campaign will see a week of action by Australian and international ITF Coordinators, Inspectors and volunteers, with group inspections at ships across three Australian states. 

The campaign is built on the experience of the ITF Inspectorate in Australia and the research commissioned and published in the Robbed at Sea report. It will target:

  • Wage theft
  • Refusal of shore leave
  • Failure to repatriate seafarers to their country of origin
  • Denial of medical care
  • Bullying and harassment

“ITF Inspectors do more than recover stolen wages," said Bray.

We are on the frontline ensuring important safety standards are met, that medical care is provided to sick or injured seafarers, and that the human rights of visiting seafarers are respected in Australia ports by employers and terminal operators, including access to shore leave and repatriation."

The ITF will hone in on Flag of Convenience vessels, registered overseas but operating in Australian waters, to ensure compliance with the Coastal Trading Act and the Fair Work Act and gather further evidence to support the Robbed At Sea report recommendations to Government for improving working and living conditions aboard cargo and coastal trading vessels operating in Australian waters.