Possible Port Hedland strike ‘weighs’ heavy on mining giants

Image credit: Flickr User: Mark Maupin

Workers at Port Hedland voted for strike ballot and went one step closer to suspending operations at one of Australia’s most important export ports, alerting major iron ore suppliers of the danger of potential multi-million loss a day.

Image credit: Flickr User: Mark Maupin
Image credit: Flickr User: Mark Maupin

According to the article on the Sydney Morning Herald, tugboat workers at the port, who are members of the Maritime Union, have supported a ballot to take protected industrial action if negotiations with North American shipping company Teekay, contracted to run the tugs at Port Hedland by BHP Billiton, fail to deliver results.

Port Hedland is the exit point for the vast majority of Australia’s iron ore and mining giants like BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron, which stand to lose millions of dollars a day if the port closes.

“We estimate this will cost suppliers who ship out of Port Hedland around $100 million a day. Significant royalty and tax revenue will be lost to the Western Australian and federal governments,” said BHP in a statement.

“Mining companies like BHP Billiton are not able to make up lost volume of this nature, and governments cannot recover these lost royalties and taxes.”

According to the article on ABC, the ballot gives workers 30 days to lawfully take action under the Fair Work provisions. Workers, on the other hand, are to give Teekay Shipping three days’ notice of any stop work action.

Fortescue Metals also reacted to the developments at the port and said the export of iron ore through Port Hedland was critical to the company, the mining industry and the Australian economy.

“There is a need to reform the out-dated industrial laws that allow a handful of workers to hold to ransom the jobs of thousands of people, threaten state revenue, jeopardise the sustainability of local communities and damage our international trade reputation,” said Fortescue Metals CEO Nev Power.

The deckhands may soon be joined by other workers at the port, as engineers and masters are also taking a ballot on the same issue.

Rio Tinto could greatly benefit from this situation as the miner exports through its own Pilbara port Cape Lambert, located just south of Port Hedland.