Tugboat strike could cost $100m a day
Strike threatens to shut down exports out of Port Hedland by BHP. Picture: Port Hedland Port Authority

Mining giant BHP Billiton has denounced planned strike action by tugboat workers at Port Hedland, saying it will cost resource companies $100 million a day.

The Maritime Union of Australia’s WA branch announced this morning that deckhands working for Teekay Shipping had voted to take protected industrial action.

The move, which threatens to shut down exports out of Port Hedland by BHP, comes following failed negotiations between the MUA and Teekay over a new pay deal failed to reach agreement.

Port Hedland is Australia’s largest bulk export facility, shipping out almost 300 million tonnes of product, most of which was iron ore, in 2012-13.

In a statement released this afternoon, the MUA’s assistant WA secretary, Will Tracey, said the main sticking points revolved around annual leave and pay.

The union is seeking to secure four weeks annual leave for deckhands, who currently get none, arguing it is an entitlement that applies across the industry.

Mr Tracey said workers also wanted deckhands’ pay to be brought closer into line with a Master’s rate, claiming the gap was relatively big in Port Hedland and it was unfair.

“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,” Mr Tracey said.

“We understand that Port Hedland is very important to the Australian economy and so we want to ensure that the best tugboat workers can be attracted to work at such a remote location

“The best way to do this is to ensure the right wages and conditions are put in place.”

Premier Colin Barnett denounced the move, saying he would be “extremely disappointed if the strike proceeds” and estimating it would cost the State about $7.5 million a day.

“Let’s be clear we are not talking about low-paid workers here,” Mr Barnett said.

“Port Hedland tugboat deckhands are already the highest-paid deckhands in Australia, and I understand they are seeking a substantial pay increase and additional leave entitlements.

“I don’t think that’s reasonable in this climate.”

A spokeswoman for BHP, which is the biggest exporter out of Port Hedland, criticised the decision of MUA members as “disappointing”.

She also warned that strike action would have significant flow-on effects for the iron ore industry and, by extension, the Australian economy.

“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.”

The West Australian

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