Australia: Lloyd's List Australia - Michelle Taylor and Melissa Tang - welfare for foreign ship workers
Last Updated: 12 August 2014

Norton Rose Fulbright has assisted in the development of a world-first system of formalised welfare for ship workers visiting foreign ports.

This article was originally published by Lloyd's List Australia and is reproduced with permission.

Law practice aids set up of seafarer welfare system

An innovative arrangement between the Port of Brisbane and Anglican charity The Mission to Seafarers has created a world-first system of formalised welfare for ship workers visiting foreign ports.

Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Port and The Mission formed in June, seafarers are guaranteed access to welfare support as contemplated by the Maritime Labour Convention. It is understood to be the first formal MOU under the Convention between a mission and a port.

The MOU was drafted by global legal practice Norton Rose Fulbright, which provided pro bono legal advice to get the deal done.

Mission president Dave Ellis has been a passionate supporter of the initiative and is hoping to roll it out in other ports around the world. The Anglican church, like other religious groups, has missions in many ports that are largely staffed by volunteers.

"We wanted to more closely align ourselves with the Port of Brisbane and also to have some arrangement or understanding around the shore-based and ship-based welfare requirements under the Maritime Labour Convention," he said.

Norton Rose Fulbright special counsel Michelle Taylor said the MOU was needed because Australia lacked specific legislation to support seafarers that accorded with the Convention.

Although Australia is a signatory to the Convention, which formalises a set of rights for foreign seafarers visiting ports and gives them access to services such as medical, psychological and spiritual support, those rights have not been specifically reflected in domestic legislation.

Ms Taylor said Australia took the view that because existing legislation offered some support to foreign seafarers, the Convention did not need its own enacting legislation. That led to a concern that a lack of specific legislation could potentially put at risk future access to the Mission's facilities.

"The Mission said that's not good enough, because although they have facilities at ports in Australia, they only exist out of the goodness of the individual port's heart," she said. "Dave Ellis was concerned that ports, particularly as they are being privatised, might want to put those facilities to a different use."

Mr Ellis asked Ms Taylor for legal assistance shortly before Christmas.

"Dave asked for me to help put in place some sort of agreement between the mission and the port so that the port actually had a legal obligation to support and fund it," Ms Taylor said. That advice was provided from the practice's Brisbane office and in Sydney by associate Melissa Tang.

Mr Ellis said he has since asked Norton Rose Fulbright to create a generic version of the MOU so it can be used by mission centres in ports in other countries.

Port of Brisbane general manager of trade services Peter Keyte said his organisation was keen to formally recognise the good work the Mission did and their longstanding relationship. The success of the MOU made it a model worth adapting to other ports too, he said.

"Many of the other ports have Mission to Seafarer or other welfare sites, but I don't think there is any port that we are aware of that has a formal arrangement with them. Whilst we have a facility that we provide for the Mission to use and a lease, we've never actually had a document or a formal understanding of how that support manifests itself," Mr Keyte said.

"I think it's a great way to show the rest of the world how ports need to look after seafarers. Our focus at the port is on health and safety, and this provides an extra arm that can support the seafarers themselves."

The Mission has been part of the Port of Brisbane for more than 120 years. It has one full-time manager and about 40 volunteers working 12 hours every day, who together provide services to about 14,000 seafarers a year.

Mr Keyte said the port recognised seafarers needed a secure place where they could get some "R and R".

"They spend a lot of time at sea and when they come ashore it provides a great facility to do things like contact home and get some access to shore-based support," he said.

The Mission provides support to seafarers and their families, including giving pastoral care and helping individuals get in touch with family in areas of the world where communications infrastructure is still undeveloped. But it also deals with crisis events that can raise unique challenges.

"One of the big ones was when the last Brisbane floods were on," Mr Ellis said. "We had three Chinese seafarers who were badly burnt and were airlifted to hospital, where they spent several months undergoing skin grafts."

At other times the Mission supports seafarers if they are having difficulties with their families, which can be exacerbated given they are away for six to 12 months a year.

Mr Ellis said the MOU would not have become a reality without the support of a legal practice with specialist shipping knowledge.

"We could never have done it without Norton Rose Fulbright. I have only got a small committee and we are all volunteers. Getting it to a point where it satisfies a corporation such as the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd takes a heck of a lot of effort and expertise.

"Norton Rose Fulbright in Australia and globally are one of the larger legal entities and certainly one of the key maritime players as well. It has that understanding of the Australian shipping environment and through Michelle, an understanding of the Port of Brisbane and the Mission centre."

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