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THE International Transport Workers’ Federation has said the Northern Territory Department of Health has gone beyond its authority in quarantining 13 stevedores.

“The action sets a dangerous precedent for dockers in Australia and around the world,” the organisation said.

“The ITF calls for the immediate release of the dock workers, and for a consistent and transparent application of quarantine rules,” it said in a recent statement.

The 13 dockers have been in the Howard Springs quarantine facility since 11 June. A mandatory 14-day lock-up was imposed on them following their work on Singapore-flagged container ship Tacoma Trader (IMO 9675810).

ITF dockers’ section co-ordinator Enrico Tortolano said the decision to quarantine the workers has the tell-tale signs of a “bureaucratic bungle”.

“Now 13 dockers remain locked up in quarantine despite the fact not a single COVID case has been detected on the vessel,” Mr Tortolano said.

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“It sets a dangerous precedent because now dock workers across Australia will worry that arbitrary quarantines will be imposed on them beyond what regulations permit. That could have a knock-on effect on the efficient working of docks all over Australia.”

NT Health did not undertake COVID-19 testing of the Tacoma Trader crew for almost a week despite requests from the seafarers, the ITF, the Maritime Union of Australia and the vessel’s operator. None of the crew and none of the dockers have tested positive.

The vessel had been declared safe and the stevedores never came into contact with the crew of the ship.

Mr Tortolano said the wharfies behaved in the same way with this ship as they had with every previous ship since the start of the COVID-19 rules.

“Now the authorities are imposing new requirements without common sense, without legislation, and without any consultation with workers, their representatives or employers. To be frank, their actions are not even in line with good scientific advice,” he said.

The ITF Dockers’ Section fully supports the MUA’s fight for the release of its members. It calls on the Australian federal and Northern Territory governments to ensure the rights and safety of all workers, and not force workers into quarantine facilities without due cause.

The ITF also reiterated its call for federal and state governments in Australia to implement the recommended protocols for ensuring safe crew changes issued by the International Maritime Organization.

An NT Health spokesperson has previously told DCN ABF personnel witnessed the port workers not wearing full PPE upon entering the vessel and reported this to health authorities and police. 

The spokesperson said PPE is required in such situations because of the risk of transmission of the virus from surfaces. They said port workers did not come into direct contact with crew members. 

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