Costal Trading Reform – Training

Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia

PO Box 215

Malvern, Victoria 3144

October 2020

Coastal Trading Reform – Where to from here?

OSSA’s Submission to The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

Thank you for the opportunity to propose practical solutions for shipping on the Australian coast and we are pleased to respond accordingly. We have focused our response on:

Future Seafarer Training options for the Australian Maritime Industry.

The recent MIAL 2018 Seafaring Skills Census provides a sound basis for discussion and forward planning for both Industry and Government to deal with Australian maritime officer workforce planning issues.

From this study the shortfall by 2023 of Australian qualified Deck and Engineer Officers, for both seagoing and shore-based occupations, is predicted to be 560 officers and ratings. It is likely that these figures are now underestimates given the current (2020) age demographics for  Deck officers and Engineers and the impact of COVID 19. The logistical impact of quarantine requirements for crews joining vessels from interstate or internationally has highlighted the strategic vulnerability for vessels of any class working in or trading to or from Australia.

In addition to these workforce estimates participant feedback also identified other issues to be addressed, particularly those related to barriers to the provision of training intended to overcome the predicted shortages.  

The identified barriers to training were:

-Cost of training

-Berth Access

-Quality of Applicants

-Ability to Mentor

We have attempted to deal with each of the above based upon personal experiences within the Australian Industry

Cost:

We believe this should be primarily a user pays solution and the best way to fund future training is to have an equitable arrangement for all industry users and to have some ongoing Federal government support to underpin such fund. The existing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) provisions could be replaced by an industry standard scholarship arrangement. This would require consultation and agreement with the Officer unions.

 Given the change of dynamics between the AMOU and AIMPE we believe that this is achievable. Trainee providers would also have some certainty of projected enrolment numbers in the medium term.

The cost of training in the declining and depressed vessel markets in Australia is prohibitive under current training cost structures imposed upon vessel operators. By comparison some other maritime nations provide support for their maritime training by way of government subsidy for both living and course costs for young trainees, which remains available through each level of certification. Also, pathways can evolve during training programs (Norway) to allow for choice of a deck or engineering career. The major portion of training costs in Australia is generally stipulated within the operators Collective Bargaining Agreements with the Officer Unions. Vessel operators historically carried the major cost of training for the broader industry including Pilot services, Stevedores, Port Authorities, Regulators, Training institutions, Oil and Gas majors, Tugs and others continuing along the maritime industry food chain. Retention of trained and competent seafarers has always been a huge problem for ship operators. Lucrative Pilotage, Towage and Shore based management positions are the major attraction for a shore-based career progression. We were once asked by an Officers Union official as to where did we find our competent master mariners with Anchor Handling and DP experience? Our response was; ”you don’t find them, you make them”.

About the time of the previous census the then Labor Government formed a Tri partied Workforce Development Forum (inclusive of Navy) with one focus of Maritime Training under the Chair of Lynelle Briggs which was tentatively moving toward the recommendation of a levy system to cover most of industry training costs.  The principle involved required that all industry participants would share this cost on an agreed and equitable basis. The idea required broad agreement but foundered with the defeat of the last Rudd Government.

On the matter of direct employment cost it should also be noted that under several International Flag States and National fleets that seafarers wages are not subject to income tax or owner operators have all the income tax deducted from seafarers wages reimbursed by National Governments as long as they satisfy Flag certification and Nationality requirements. Australia did have a similar situation in place for seafarers and other expatriate workers under section 23AG of the Income Tax Act, which provided tax relief for contract periods in excess of 90 days (leave Inclusive). This part of the act was rescinded in July 2009. The act was not just specific to seafarers but allowed Australian owners with Australian officers to compete effectively in foreign markets.  An export market could also be developed for Australian Seafaring Competencies should overseas employment benefit from favorable taxation treatment for engagements beyond Australian waters. It follows that many of the XXX* foreign national seafarers currently engaged in Australia may have a significant competitive cost advantage by virtue of their National Collective Bargaining Agreements and / or wage subsidies. The discussion about foreign seafarers is in reality not about competency but about cost.

*171 less 38 NZ Nationals both at sea and ashore at time of census 2018. This requires further review for the actual numbers as at October, 2020.

Berth Access:

The MIAL census identified 50 unused sea time berths currently available on vessels operating in and around Australia.  This is not to be enough to meet future demand projections. Opportunities for cost effective sea time beyond Australia could be negotiated on the international fleets of companies currently operating within Australia. ASP, ANL, P&O Maritime, Solvtrans, Solstad, Maersk, Doff, Carnival Cruises, Serco, Teekay Shipping and the container companies regularly on the Australian trade immediately come to mind. This has been very effective historically and on a smaller scale more recently. Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia Ltd could assist having recent history in the development of these initiatives. Some of the architects of these programs are still active around the Australian Industry. Applicants from remote coastal and indigenous communities should also be considered. These initiatives for sea time would need to be dependent upon AMSA Marine Orders and any recommendation for change without compromising standards. Perhaps a cost of doing business in Australia might be a legislated provision of a single trainee berth per vessel for an Australian resident trainee with proper supervision.

Quality of Applicants:

Australia has a wonderful pool of eager school leavers seeking worthy careers and Professional Human Resources Departments can readily source good applicants. Well-targeted recruitment will lead to high retention when combined with well-structured trainee programs and mentoring. Unsolicited applications are received on a daily basis by most Ship Operators in Australia. Many of these applications display a passion for a seagoing career. Others demonstrate a liking for the earning potential and leave and not much more. Unfortunately, the Maritime Industry is not widely promoted within the wider community despite Australia’s economic development having been built on reliable trade by sea with the rest of the world. Few school leavers are aware of the availability of a career at sea and in the Maritime Industry generally with the variety of trades that exist ranging from RO RO vessels, General Cargo, Oil and Gas Operations, Antarctic Exploration to Scientific research, inshore and offshore towing and fisheries.

 Knowledge of the industry tends to be the domain of seafaring families. Programs from OSSA Ltd and Shipowners Associations can develop structured career information programs for schools around Australia. (OSSA is developing a program now -see attachment). The awareness of professional opportunities ashore as one’s career evolves needs to also be promoted. These include but are not limited to:

-Management roles with owner operators.

-Port authorities.

-Stevedoring.

-Government Regulators.

-Classification Societies such as Lloyds, DNV etc.

-Oil and Gas companies involved in offshore exploration and production.

-Shippers and Ships Agency.

-Fisheries and Aquaculture.

– Pilotage.

– Offshore wind farming.

Wages and conditions are very competitive compared to shore based graduate entry-level positions. The even time leave rotations are alleviated by current technology that allows ready communication to home together with entertainment facilities beamed into one’s cabin via satellite technology. Regretfully, even the existing Maritime Museums around Australia demonstrate minimal understanding or interest of Australia’s contemporary commercial shipping.  In summary, a well thought out approach to recruitment will source quality applicants.

Mentoring:

The importance of mentoring cannot be overstated. Good mentoring is the responsibility of the knowledge keepers both at sea and ashore. We can all reflect upon mentors that we have had in our life, whether it be teachers, managers or co-workers. They are remembered for their sharing of knowledge and wisdom. They are also remembered as someone who can easily be approached and would find some of their valuable time for us even if it could not be at that specific moment.

The Nautical Institute publish and promote a small book called “Mentoring at Sea”. Key subjects addressed are;

-The 10-minute challenge

-Overcoming barriers to mentoring

-Shore support for onboard mentoring

-Developing a culture of mentoring

This is a fine guide for experienced Officers and Ratings. Shore based mentoring is also important. Managers should engage with trainees periodically for open dialogue and provide a progress review and advice (and support) as required. More importantly access to a retired or semi-retired seafarer with whom a trainee can confide with confidentially. The Housing Industry Association has a template in place, which has been a quantifiable success. This is the type of program and service that Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia Ltd is seeking to develop. OSSA has over 100 active and retired seafaring members who can become a resource to a trainee throughout and beyond their traineeship. Good mentoring leads to better and safer seafarers.

Summary and Key Recommendations.

  1. Without an overhaul of traditional training structures Australia will not be able to meet projected shortfalls in professional seafaring competencies in the short, medium or longer term for Australian Seafarers. It follows that without local commitment to future training shortfalls will need to be met by foreign nationals on temporary visas or a migration program.
  1. Training structures need to be more cost effective and the reduced unit cost of training a seafarer should be shared equitably by all of the maritime industry including the wider beneficiaries of this trainingincluding Additionally, owner operators will require a large degree of ownership and management of their own trainee nominees/employees.
  1. Discussion on the above needs to include Employer Associations, Government, Vessel Owners and operators, Navy, Training providers, Unions and all end users. If there is a political will then Government through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority could provide facilitation. It should be noted that Government requirement for Merchant Mariners through AMSA, Border Force, CSIRO, AAD reflects their status as a major industry stakeholder.
  2. A suggested new structure to ensure an enduring maritime training pipeline may look like the following:
    • The establishment of a new unit within AMSA with the responsibility for the collection of an equitable levy under a Federal Government initiative from all the end uses of trained Australian resident mariners.
    • The establishment of an organisation (MIAL or another) that part of the levy would fund for the administration required for sea time berth placements as required by Marine Orders, coordination of recruitment using specific selection criteria as required by members , industry promotion, mentoring and securing seagoing employment both within Australia or overseas. The 2020 Federal Budget provides a 12month incentive of $7000 per quarter for employers engaging young Australian Trainees and Apprenticeships up until the age of 35 and adjusted for those older. This can be a realistic subsidy towards sea time contracts and might be partnered with other benefits dependent upon the particular maritime training course and entry level. Reference: Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements. Questions and Answers. Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
  3. Maritime training in Australia requires a long-term commitment if we want to maintain a viable Australian Seafaring Competency base which is still regarded amongst the world’s best.
  4. The application to the above should be primarily self-fundingwith no major expense to Government and at the same time delivering a strategically important resource of future Australian seafaring officers.

Offshore and Specialist Ships Australia P/L Draft Power point on Maritime Industry Careers is attached via this link (https://offshorespecialistships.com/school-program) . This will be released for use by over 100 schools in Victoria extending Nationally in early 2021.

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