The Maritime Union of Australia is warning of significant Covid, environmental and employment issues on board the icebreaker contracted by the Australian Antarctic Division for this summer. This follows the retirement of the iconic and long-serving icebreaker, Aurora Australis.
The union – which represents seafarers, wharf workers and others – says the MPV Everest, which was contracted for this summer after construction delays prevented the arrival of the Aurora’s permanent replacement vessel, the RSV Nuyina, will be crewed by foreign crew members who have never worked in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
It claims the need to keep the Antarctic mission Covid-free is being unnecessarily jeopardised through the use of foreign seafarers, particularly as the Australian crew from the Aurora — with decades of experience in Antarctica — could have been used.
Risk to a pristine environment
It also warned that the use of foreign seafarers with no Antarctic experience posed a risk to the pristine and sensitive environment, while also reducing the overall safety of the scientific mission.
“The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) has serious questions to answer about why they have chosen to use foreign seafarers who lack the extensive experience of Australian seafarers operating in the unique and challenging conditions of Antarctica,” the union’s Assistant National Secretary, Ian Bray said.
“Especially during the Covid crisis, when this virus is running rampant in much of the world, the use of foreign seafarers poses an unnecessary biosecurity risk to the entire mission.
“The Federal Government should be insisting the AAD utilise Australian seafarers who have worked on the Aurora, given their proven track record of safety and environmental protection.”
AAD avoiding employment laws
Bray added: “We fear the choice to use foreign workers is a financial one, with the AAD putting safety and the environment at risk in an effort to avoid Australian employment laws, wages and employment standards.”
According to the union’s Tasmania Branch Secretary, Jason Campbell, at a time when the pandemic has resulted in job losses around the country, the Australian Antarctic Division should be prioritising the employment of Australians in the Marine Science Program.
“The Federal Government has serious questions to answer about why it approved the use of a foreign crewed vessel when an Australian crewed vessel, the Aurora Australia, would have been available,” Campbell argued.