ITF’s Nowhere to Hide Campaign shines a light on wage theft aboard cargo ships in Australian ports

Published: 13 Jun 2023









ITF’s Nowhere to Hide Campaign shines a light on wage theft aboard cargo ships in Australian ports


13 June 2023


The International Transport Workers Federation (the ITF) launched its ‘Nowhere to Hide’ campaign this week in the Port of Newcastle, kicking off a week of action targeting shipowners and agents that systematically steal the wages of vulnerable seafarers aboard the cargo ships that deliver more than 95% 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.


The International Transport Workers Federation and the Maritime Union of Australia 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% 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 Nowhere to Hide campaign will see a week of action by Australian and international ITF coordinators, inspectors and volunteers , with group inspections at ships in New South Wales ports.


The Week of Action will target every ship entering any New South Wales port during the week 13 – 20 June 2023.


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 of vulnerable workers


The ITF will also target 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.


Quotes attributable to Paddy Crumlin, MUA National Secretary and ITF President:


“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. 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.”


“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, and 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.”


Quotes attributable to Ian Bray, ITF Coordinator – Australia:


“In 2022, we performed 550 inspections and recovered almost US$7 million of stolen wages for the world’s most vulnerable workers. This year we are on track to reach $11 million in recovered monies, so this just shows that the problem isn’t going away and that international shipowners need to be monitored very closely to ensure they are operating within the law and within the community’s expectations”


“ITF Inspectors do more than recover stolen wages, however. 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.”


Media Contact: Tom Harris-Brassil - 0401 834 924



Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney