'They've just shafted us': Unions fear job losses as BHP ends shipping contracts
Advertisement

'They've just shafted us': Unions fear job losses as BHP ends shipping contracts

Workers who froze their pay to help save NSW's Port Kembla steelworks are set to lose their jobs and be replaced by overseas crews on foreign vessels, after BHP terminated two shipping contracts, maritime unions say.

BHP last week revealed it was abandoning the last two Australian-crewed ships that carry iron ore from Port Hedland in Western Australia to BlueScope Steel's steelworks south of Sydney.

"I thought they might have the compassion for the Australian industry to keep our jobs going": Ashley Hill.

"I thought they might have the compassion for the Australian industry to keep our jobs going": Ashley Hill.Credit:Kate Geraghty

The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) and Australian Maritime Officers Union condemned the move, saying more than 70 Australian officers and seafarers would lose their jobs. BHP would use foreign crews on foreign ships to carry the same product between the two ports, the unions said.

Ashley Hill, 57, who works as a third engineer for the contracted employer, Teekay Shipping Australia, said the local crews had been "shafted" after agreeing to a pay freeze in 2015 to help BlueScope achieve $200 million of cost cuts needed to save the steelworks.

Advertisement
Loading

"The shore workers were doing the same thing and we thought we should work together to turn it around, which it has. They've just shafted us," said Mr Hill, who is currently on leave after dislocating his shoulder while on board.

"I thought they might have the compassion for the Australian industry to keep our jobs going."

The ships operate in a “triangle trade” pattern, carrying iron ore from WA to Port Kembla, before heading up the east coast, picking up coal and delivering it to China, then returning to Port Hedland.

The crew on one ship, the Lowlands Brilliance, was currently on its way to China with no clue as to what the future held, Mr Hill said. The other vessel, the Mariloula, had discharged its last cargo and was now at anchor off Hong Kong.

He said the federal government needed to do more to help local crews, and questioned the fairness of an industry sourcing its materials from Australia, while sending jobs offshore.

"I hear politicians say 'I've got a soft spot for the shipping industry, blah blah blah' and that's as far as it goes," he said. "There seems to be all talk and no action - it's getting to the point of no return [for the shipping industry].

BHP last week revealed it was abandoning the last two Australian-crewed ships that carry iron ore from Port Hedland in Western Australia to the Port Kembla steelworks.

BHP last week revealed it was abandoning the last two Australian-crewed ships that carry iron ore from Port Hedland in Western Australia to the Port Kembla steelworks.Credit:Andy Zakeli

"BHP is getting resources from Australia - where's the loyalty factor? I think it's just ruthless, greedy corporate enterprises who worry about their bottom line and their shareholders. If you're getting resources from Australia, surely they have to have some sort of law to keep Australians in jobs?"

AIMPE federal secretary Martin Byrne said ditching the workers was “a kick in the guts after everything that everyone’s done to make sure the Kembla steelworks stayed open”.

The union said it was almost certain that all the workers would be made redundant.

A BHP spokeswoman confirmed it had “commenced the phase-out of shipping arrangements with  BlueScope”, with a final end date of June 2019.

“BHP is mindful of the impact this will have on the crews of these ships. We understand that the contracted employer, Teekay Shipping Australia, is supporting them through this change,” the spokeswoman said.

“These freight arrangements date back to a time when BHP was a major steel manufacturer and processor, and were maintained for a period as part of the demerger of BHP Steel (now BlueScope Steel).

“Since this time, BHP has changed and we are no longer in the business of vessel operation and management – including contracting for crewing services.”

A spokesperson for BlueScope said it was "currently exploring options for future iron ore supply".

"Since the original iron ore supply contract was put in place some 17 years ago, the nature of the iron ore market has changed fundamentally," the spokesperson said.

"BlueScope operates in the highly competitive, trade-exposed, global steel industry. We must ensure that we have internationally competitive raw material supply arrangements, so our local manufacturing operations, which employ 6500 Australians, remain viable."

A spokesperson for Teekay said they are "currently consulting with employees and their respective Maritime Unions."

The spokesperson also said that while "no decision has been made regarding the continued employment of the crew, and the company is examining whether there are redeployment opportunities," they conceded that it was 'quite possible' that there would be redundancies.

with The Illawarra Mercury  

Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.

Search ASX quotes

Most Viewed in Business

Loading
Advertisement