Tug engineers back strike threat on Australia iron ore exports

MELBOURNE, June 10 Tue Jun 10, 2014 12:39am EDT

MELBOURNE, June 10 (Reuters) - Tug boat engineers at Australia's top iron ore export port backed plans for possible strike action in a fight for more leave and shorter work hours that could halt a quarter of the world's iron ore exports.

Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE)members approved five proposals ranging from unlimited work stoppages of four hours up to 48 hours, according to the ballot result released by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The tug boats, operated by Teekay Shipping, guide iron ore carriers in and out of Port Hedland, which handles more than half of Australia's iron ore exports.

Deckhands and captains making up the rest of crews on the tugboats approved strike proposals earlier. None of the unions have set a date for a strike as they are all still in talks with Teekay to resolve their dispute.

The next mediation sessions are set for June 12 and July 3.

Tug crews have had to deal with a sharp increase in traffic at the port as Australia's no.2 and 3 iron ore producers, BHP Billiton Ltd and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd , have recently completed major expansions.

The port set a new tonnage record of 1.27 million tonnes shipped on a single tide on Saturday, the port authority said.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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