Tugboat workers employed by Teekay Shipping have voted to take protected industrial action if EBA negotiations with the company do not reach a resolution.
“The Maritime Union of Australia WA assistant secretary Will Tracey said that the MUA has been in negotiations with Teekay for 12 months, and while some progress has been made there are still a number of points of conflict.
“Industrial action is always a last resort and we still hope that we can come to an agreement without having to take the action which has been sanctioned by the Fair Work Commission," he said.
Teekay Shipping is a contractor for BHP Billiton, and runs tugboats at Port Hedland for all ships that use the bulk export port, which is the world’s biggest with $100 million worth of ore leaving the port every day.
Strike action at the port has the potential to cost the major iron ore miners such as BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals and other junior miners, millions of dollars each day in lost revenue, as well as reducing royalties to the state government.
Tracey said the main issue the parties had not yet reached agreement on was annual leave.
“Other workers in the industry who are on an even time roster currently get 6 weeks annual leave, while our members get none,” he said.
“We are pursuing a claim of 4 weeks leave a year. We think this is very reasonable, given our members work 12 hours a day for 28 days straight in very tough conditions.”
Tracey said the other main issue that had yet to be resolved was a relativity claim.
“Deckhands at ports across the country are currently paid 70 per cent of a Master’s rate. At Port Hedland, the gap is significantly wider and we are seeking to remedy this,” he said.
Tracey said the two parties were also still trying to reach agreement on a pay rise for members.
“We understand that Port Hedland is very important to the Australian economy and so we want to ensure that the best tug boat workers can be attracted to work at such a remote location,” he said.
“The best way to do this is to ensure the right wages and conditions are put in place.”
Tracey said the union had agreed to a number of tradeoffs to secure its claims, including no pay rise in the first year of the agreement, forfeiting payments for travel days and other productivity offsets relating to maintenance.
So far, 100 per cent of workers have voted to strike for 24 hours, 98 per cent voted to strike for 48 hours, and 98 per cent voted to strike for one week, however the union said they have not yet reached a decision on which option would be chosen.
“We are disappointed that the MUA members at Port Hedland have voted in support of industrial action,” the spokeswoman said.
“Port Hedland is the largest export port in Australia.
“It is vital for our economy and for Australia’s international standing that the Port Hedland Port continues to operate.
“BHP Billiton’s customers rely on a continuous, stable supply of premium-grade iron ore from our Pilbara operations through the Port.
“If the Port operations are suspended, Australia’s iron ore exports are significantly impacted.
“We estimate this will cost suppliers who ship out of Port Hedland around A$100 million a day.
“Significant royalty and tax revenue will be lost to the Western Australian and Federal Governments.
“Mining companies like BHP Billiton are not able to make up lost volume of this nature, and governments cannot recover these lost royalties and taxes.”
Industrial Relations laws state the workers have 30 days in which to take the protected action and the MUA must give Teekay 3 clear days of notice before any action.
Negotiations with Teekay are ongoing and the parties will appear before the Fair Work Commission on 20th of May in Sydney.