Port Hedland tugboat strike put on hold

A last-minute intervention has held off a strike at Australia’s largest iron ore export port.
Nanjing Night Net

A last-minute intervention has held off a strike at Australia’s largest iron ore export port.

A last-minute intervention has held off a strike at Australia’s largest iron ore export port.

A last-minute intervention has held off a strike at Australia’s largest iron ore export port.

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Plans for a tugboat strike at Port Hedland on Wednesday morning have been put on hold, after an eleventh-hour intervention by the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday evening.

The four hour strike was due to begin at 6am Western Standard Time, but has been delayed by another week after the commission acted upon an application by tugboat operator Teekay Shipping.

The intervention means that iron ore exports by the likes of BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group, BC Iron and Atlas Iron can go ahead unhindered on Wednesday.

Teekay sought an intervention on the grounds that it had sent a proposed workplace agreement to the tugboat engineers, which was due to be voted upon within a week.

The proposed agreement had not been ratified by the engineers’ union, the Australian Institute of Marine Power Engineers, and does not meet the engineers demand for daily hours of work to be capped at 12 hours.

But the commission handed down interim orders late on Tuesday evening, which effectively postpones the strike for one week, to allow Teekay’s proposal to be voted on by the engineers. Aside from the one week delay, the engineers must also provide three days notice of any new strike, meaning the earliest a strike would now take place at Port Hedland appears to be November 22.

Teekay has struck new workplace agreements with the other two groups of tugboat workers in recent weeks, the deckhands and the masters, and the company wants to test the engineers’ appetite toward the proposed deal.

AIMPE spokesman Andrew Williamson said an informal poll of engineers conducted on Tuesday indicated the members remained strongly opposed to the proposed deal circulated by Teekay in recent days.

“AIMPE is campaigning vigorously for its members to reject the company’s proposed agreement,” he said.

The threat of a strike comes at a bad time for iron ore miners who are already battling depressed iron ore prices, with several smaller iron ore exporters struggling to break even during the September quarter.

The miners believe the tugboat workers are already well paid, and their demands for improved conditions are at odds with the general drive across the mining industry for austerity and improved workforce productivity.

But with shipping movements through the port reaching record highs on the back of the rising tide of iron ore exports, the tugboat workers argue they are doing more work than ever before, and often working more than 12 hours per day.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.