Tug Operators Plan Strike at Australian Port

By MarEx 2014-11-06 09:48:00

Tugboat engineers at Port Hedland, Australia's biggest iron ore port, plan to stop work for four hours on Nov. 12 over a pay dispute, threatening exports from BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group , according to tug operator Teekay Shipping.

The Australian Institute of Marine & Power Engineers (AIMPE) has given notice of the stoppage, Teekay said, adding that it exempted towage already under way.

AIMPE Federal Secretary Martin Byrne said the action was aimed at having "minimal impact" on the port's users and would take place in the morning during a low tide, when ships are typically stationary.

"They are in no way our targets, but we are conscious that they are the users of the port and would be affected," Byrne said. "Having said that, we are always open to negotiation."

Teekay has been in negotiations over the past 17 months with the AIMPE as well as the Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) and Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

Teekay said it was "surprised and disappointed" the AIMPE had decided in favor of industrial action at a time when the AMOU and MUA had endorsed new enterprise agreements with substantially the same terms for their members.

Fortescue Chief Executive Nev Power said the action would be damaging to users of the port.

"Fortescue, and the other companies that operate out of Port Hedland, are collateral damage in this dispute," Power said. "We have not been involved in negotiations and yet our businesses are punished when AIMPE doesn't get its own way."

Tugboat captains, engineers and deck hands have been demanding higher pay and more leave from Teekay following a one-third increase in iron ore shipments through Port Hedland over the past year that has stretched their work hours.

Australian shipments of iron ore to China from Port Hedland, which handles about a fifth of the world's seaborne trade, rose 6.5 percent to a near-record in October, port data released on Nov. 4 showed.

By James Regan (C) Reuters 2014.