Former Labor resources minister Gary Gray says the maritime union's "over-the-top" demands in its Port Hedland dispute are against the national interest.
In a rebuke of the Maritime Union of Australia's hardline tactics, Mr Gray called on the union to back down from its "imprudent" claims and pursue a productivity-based settlement.
"This is not the time for over-the-top demands by the MUA and it's not the time for careless actions by the Australian Government," he said yesterday.
"The Australian interest is served by a negotiated wages and conditions settlement that accommodates the interests of workers and the industry."
The MUA is in dispute with tugboat operator Teekay Shipping, demanding its 56 workers be paid the equivalent of 70 per cent of a tugboat skipper and be given four weeks annual leave.
The union yesterday suspended immediate threats of a strike but will today apply to the Fair Work Commission for a 30-day extension to an existing industrial action order. A tugboat workers' strike would interrupt iron ore exports by BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron, worth up to $100 million a day.
Fortescue Metals Group chief executive Nev Power said the company would consider standing down workers for indefinite periods if the strike went ahead.
Employment Minister Eric Abetz said the MUA workers were already being paid four times what a registered nurse in Victoria was paid for a job that took just four days training.
Senator Abetz said if the company relented to the MUA demands, workers would get a big pay rise for no productivity trade-off and effectively work just five months in the year.
MUA WA assistant secretary Will Tracey said the industry and Government were misleading the public over the union's claims.
He said tugboat workers worked an average 2016 hours a year, the equivalent of almost 54 weeks of a standard 37.5 hour working week.