OPINION | The maritime workforce is essential for all Australians

The free movement of cargo and the maintenance of critical supply chain is an issue for all Australians. All states and territories have recognised this through the adopting of exemptions to their border restrictions but in their individual approach to controlling their borders, they have failed to ensure this critical workforce can go about their business without being impeded or being forcibly separated from their families after returning home from work.

Today, Maritime Industry Australia (MIAL) has launched a summary of the requirements in place across the nation for the maritime sector. It isn’t light reading and it is out of date as soon as time stamp is placed on the front cover as the goal posts are constantly shifted, but it’s our best shot at assisting industry understand the operational measures and more importantly how they can move their workforce around the country to where they need them.

In late March the transport and infrastructure ministers from all jurisdictions met and delivered a communique that states, “All jurisdictions where restrictions are in place have provided exemptions to these measures to ensure Australia’s supply chains are maintained. All ministers in jurisdictions that have introduced border controls are working together to provide clarity and consistency of these measures.”

We are seeing no evidence of this undertaking playing out in practice.

What we are seeing is states telling marine crews returning home after performing work as essential service workers that they are not, “essential to our state” as they worked elsewhere, and therefore must quarantine – increasingly at government directed facilities.

The communique also states, “This includes recognition of the importance of all members of the freight distribution chain, from drivers, pilots, and engineers and others who support them, including those in the back-office working out rostering and logistics.

“We want to thank all those Australians involved in the freight industry who are serving Australia so diligently despite the challenges we face.”

The thanks that the back-office staff are receiving for their efforts is a never ending headache trying to understand and implement the state/territory requirements, which change by the hour. Even when there is clarity, the implementation by field officers is a complete lottery resulting in some frontline workers, being sent to quarantine at one or both ends of their journey.

And finally, we have the very serious issue of crew welfare on board vessels. Some jurisdictions are prohibiting crew changes and repatriation and even from setting foot on the wharf to undertake essential shipboard tasks. These are not reasonable measures for an essential service.  The humanitarian crisis developing for crew members on the cruise ships in our waters is of deep concern to MIAL and urgently requires resolution.  This disturbing treatment of seafarers identifies that clear protocols for any future instance of ill crew members on ships in our waters is required.

Maritime Industry Australia is calling for greater alignment between the states and territories with respect to the measures put in place to facilitate essential maritime workers; greater recognition that if someone is “essential” to work then they are “essential” to return home; and greater humanity in the treatment of crews on vessels of all types to ensure they can go home or receive appropriate medical care and clear protocols on same.

Teresa Loyd

Teresa Lloyd is the CEO of Maritime Industry Australia, which represents the collective interests of maritime businesses, primarily those operating maritime assets or facilities from Australia.