MELBOURNE, April 30 Australian iron ore exports
from BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group
could be blocked for up to a week in mid-May, if
tugboat workers go on strike in a dispute over annual leave and
Deckhands working on tugboats operated by Teekay Shipping
Australia and used by BHP and Fortescue, the world's no.3
and 4 iron ore miners respectively, at Port Hedland in Western
Australia are voting on whether to stop work for 24 hours, 48
hours or seven days. The ballot result is due on May 12.
If a strike lasted a week, it could halt around 8 million
tonnes of iron ore exports. More than 34 million tonnes of iron
ore were shipped in March through Port Hedland, with almost all
of that going to China, South Korea and Japan.
The Maritime Union of Australia has proposed a strike to
pressure Teekay over demands to give deckhands, who work four
weeks-on then get four weeks off, annual leave and up to 70
percent of a tug master's pay.
If workers decide to strike, the union needs to give BHP,
which has the licence to all the tugboats operating at Port
Hedland, three days notice ahead of stopping work. That means
any halt to shipments would start on May 15 at the earliest.
Teekay declined to comment on its talks with the three
unions representing deckhands, engineers and tugboat masters, as
mediation at Australia's Fair Work Commission is confidential,
but is trying to resolve the issues.
"Teekay and BHP Billiton are committed to maintaining a
viable and efficient towage operation in Port Hedland," Teekay
said in a statement.
The commission's next hearing is on May 7.
BHP and Fortescue account for more than half of Australia's
iron ore exports. Smaller miners Atlas Iron Ltd and BC
Iron Ltd could also be affected, depending on the
timing, as they export through Port Hedland.
Australia's biggest iron ore producer, Rio Tinto
, would not be hit as it does not use Port
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Ed Davies)