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Robbed at sea: endemic wage theft from seafarers in Australian waters

Labour standards Shipping Regulatory enforcement Sector regulation Employment Law Wage theft Australia

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) establishes minimum labour standards for all seafarers. But these standards are weak and minimalist, reflecting standards common across the global shipping industry – including in developing nations. And even these standards are enforced inconsistently by domestic regulators through their Port State Control (PSC) responsibilities under the MLC.

In Australia’s case, these minimal standards are intended to be enhanced (for ships involved in Australian coastal trading) by domestic rules, in order to close the gap between labour standards applying to foreign-registered international ships, and wages and conditions considered socially acceptable in Australia. However, this effort is undermined by a large loophole in the application of national labour standards to foreign-registered ships licenced to operate in domestic coastal trading.

This report makes ten specific recommendations for reducing the incidence of wage theft from international seafarers in Australian waters. These include closing a current legal loophole (which allows foreign-registered ships to conduct two trips between Australian ports without needing to respect the Fair Work Act or the Seagoing Industry Award), and strengthening inspection resources for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Fair Work Ombudsman (to ensure that existing rules are better respected).

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