A potentially devastating strike that could have shuttered operations at Port Headland, Australia’s No. 1 export port in its most iron ore-prolific Pilbara region — while costing miners and the government tens of millions — has been averted for a month.
But a future strike remains possible, with representatives proposing a June 30 walkout by Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members, barring mutual agreements with tugboat operator Teekay. Workers in the 11-month deadlock have sought a wage increase of nearly 10%, with more annual leave; no settlements were reached upon Thursday’s extension.
By week’s end, the union said it would petition the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for the next 30-day extension. Until then, it pledged informal talks with Teekay pending the June 5 appearance before FWC officials.
The prospect of a strike worried No. 1 miner BHP Billiton and others like Fortescue Metals Group, both of which contract Teekay and face daily losses up to $92 million. BHP has flagged legal action to stop the strike; Fortescue threatened to stand down workers if the strike proceeded.
Port Headland union employees, however, are already among the highest-paid in Australia’s towage industry, BHP said in a statement, making demands “unreasonable and out of touch with the current economic conditions faced by Australian exporters;” they also hurt Australia’s global reputation as a stabling mining country, said the Anglo-Australian giant.
To this end, the situation drew in federal government officials, who are monitoring events; the state and federal government also stands to lose tens of millions per day in royalties and corporate tax revenue.