Worker’s may be fighting for the right to earn more megabucks, as the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) recently won the right for tugboat crews in Port Hedland to strike over payrises and annual leave.
Fair Work Australia commissioner Daniel Cloghan gave permission yesterday for a protected action ballot of MUA members, which under the Fair Work Act is a necessary precursor to a strike.
Cloghan said he was satisfied that the MUA was trying to reach agreement with Teekay Shipping Australia.
Teekay Shipping is a contractor for BHP Billiton, and runs tugboats at Port Hedland for all ships that use the bulk export port, which is the world’s biggest with $100 million worth of ore leaving the port every day.
Strike action at the port has the potential to cost the major iron ore miners such as BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals and other junior miners, millions of dollars each day in lost revenue, as well as reducing royalties to the state government.
Industry sources said the MUA have been seeking a 20 per cent pay rise for tug boat crew members, as well as increases to their annual leave, however this has been denied by MUA assistant secretary Will Tracey
Tug boat crew members currently work a four weeks on, four weeks off roster, and earn an annual salary of $137,144.
Tracey said the union has dropped the 20 per cent pay rise, which was taken off the table months ago, but he would not provide any further details due to the negotiations being at a “critical juncture”.
Tracey also rejected suggestions the MUA was asking for six extra weeks of annual leave.
Teekay Shipping did not attend the Fair Work Commission hearing on Wednesday, and instead tendered a written statement.
"Our client does not consider that MUA is genuinely trying to reach an agreement in circumstances where it has made and maintains a demand that any agreement with Teekay has to include at least an 11.9 per cent increase of the base (pay) rates, by reference to a so called relativity argument, without any justification by reference to work value changes by its members," the statement said.
The MUA and Teekay are due back in the Fair Work Commission on Monday.