Port Hedland tugboat strike war heats up, FMG threatens to suspend operations

Following comments from BHP iron ore chief Jimmy Wilson, the
Maritime Union of Australia have scorned his characterisation of the dispute
and retaliated with hard data to show the hours worked by tugboat deckhands in
Port Hedland.

Wilson told reporters in Perth yesterday that tugboat deckhands
working for Teekay Shipping are seeking a 40 per cent pay rise over 4 years,
when Teekay Shipping have already made statements to the media that the MUA has
demanded no less that 11.9 per cent.

Wilson also said that the deckhands only work for six months
of the year, and that they now only want to work for 4 and a half months per
year.  

MUA WA assistant secretary Will Tracey has criticised the attempts by
BHP and the federal government to mislead the public, and responded with accurate
figures to debunk the generalisations being reported on.

“Both industry and the federal government are trying to
create the impression that these deckhands only work a fraction of the year, in
an attempt to portray the MUA as unreasonable and justify a political attack on
the union and Australia’s industrial relations laws,” he said.

“Over the course of a year, tugboat workers work six swings
of 28 days, at an average of 12 hours a day, and sometimes up to 20 hours a
day, and sometimes up to 20 hours a day, depending on the volume of iron ore
going through the port.

“The total number of hours worked by a tugboat deckhand in a
year equates to almost 54 weeks of a standard 37.5 hour working week, such as
people might earn if they worked in the Perth offices of BHP Billiton.

“By misleading the public over the nature of the work
performed by these workers, both industry and the federal government are
showing no respect for the hard work and sacrifice of these workers and their
families.”

Tracey has stated that the deckhands are being paid 62 per
cent of the master’s pay of $220,000 per year, when other deckhands in
Australia are paid 70 per cent of the master’s rate.

Tracey has already said that the MUA is happy to meet Teekay
halfway and accept 67 per cent of the master’s pay.

Fortescue Metals Group have joined the fray in the media, with
FMG CEO Nev Power stating that if the strike goes ahead they will consider
standing down workers for “indefinite periods of time”.

Power compared the pay demands of the deckhands to nurses
pay, saying that Teekay employees want to be paid three times more than a “first
year nurse in the Victorian health system”.

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