World Maritime Day marks strategic, social and economic importance of Australian maritime workers

Published: 27 Sep 2023







Organised by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, each year on World Maritime Day (28 September 2023) we recognise the invaluable efforts of millions of seafarers, dockers, ferry and port workers around the world, and the thousands of Australians, who keep our global interconnected supply chains running smoothly, consistently and dependably.

They do this despite overwhelming obstacles, challenges and the isolation and personal sacrifice that often comes with a life at sea or performing hard, physical work on the waterfront.

With more than 98 per cent of Australia’s imports and exports carried by sea, the COVID-19 crisis highlighted the urgent need to reinvigorate our nation’s domestic shipping industry. Further shocks to our supply chains arising from Russia’s war in Ukraine have further stressed the urgency of reform.

Alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the Maritime Union has campaigned across Australia, both within the community, in industry and business forums, and government departments, for a significant and lasting commitment to revitalisation of the Australian shipping sector.

MUA National Secretary and International Transport Workers' Federation president Paddy Crumlin said that industry and government must continue to respond to the lessons of the COVID pandemic with lasting and durable policy responses that would protect the nation from future shocks.

“Without seafarers and waterfront workers, Australia’s economy grinds to a halt,” Mr Crumlin said. “These are the people who make Australia’s exports possible, supply the country with fuel and commodities, and ensure the overwhelming majority of everyday products are available to consumers in every town and suburb."

“Even though the worst aspects of the COVID crisis are firmly behind us, we cannot afford to ignore the lessons it offered us about supply chain vulnerabilities and the national interest. We must invest in resilient, durable and shock-proof supply chain infrastructure, and this includes a sovereign shipping capacity to protect our national security,” Mr Crumlin said. "Australian merchant shipping underpinned our national interest for generations, only to be undermined by rampant deregulation of the international industry and consequential monopolistic arrangements by shipping cartels established in international tax havens," Mr Crumlin added.

A revitalised Australian shipping industry, with a strategic fleet of Australian-flagged vessels crewed by Australian workers, will reassert our sovereign self-sufficiency and deliver security for our nation’s fuel and supply chains.

“As an island nation, maritime trade keeps the economy ticking, but very few large trading vessels still fly the Australian Red Ensign. This has undermined our economic sovereignty as supply chains become increasingly reliant on foreign owned, crewed and flagged ships,” Mr Crumlin said.

The Maritime Union applauds the renewed focus on Australian domestic supply chain security and the national interest being pursued by the Federal Labor Government. Their long-standing policy to reassert Australia's sovereign shipping capacity with a Strategic Fleet is a priority for the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, and Minister for Transport, Catherine King.

With the number of Australian ships slashed over the past 15 years, Australia's dependence on vulnerable, exploited workers working in terrible conditions aboard internationally flagged vessels has continued to worsen.

The independently authored 'Robbed at Sea' report published by the Australia Institute, based on the work of the Australian Inspectorate of the International Transport Workers Federation, has shown that wage theft is not only rampant but a fact of life for merchant mariners. 

There has never been a more important time to remember the past and make plans to protect the future by ensuring we have a viable Australian shipping industry.

“Decades of neglect have seen the industry hollowed out, leaving Australia almost entirely dependent on foreign flag-of-convenience vessels, often registered in tax havens and crewed by exploited visa workers on as little as $2 per hour, to move cargo around the coast,” Mr Crumlin said.



Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney