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Tug of war: BHP could face Port Hedland battle

Tugboat crews are reportedly preparing a new campaign against BHP over wages and conditions at Port Hedland, almost four years after a major dispute between unions and the miner threatened to cut iron ore exports at the site.

Shortly after the last dispute, existing Port Hedland tugboat provider Teekay was replaced by rival Rivtow, which operates on a partnership model. This model stifles union action, as crews are technically not employees, but are owners.

But according to a story this week in the AFR, some of Rivtow’s tug partnerships have been relying on employees who are members of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, opening the door for union hostilities.

“The AIMPE will this month be embarking on litigation against BHP in the port of Port Hedland seeking an industrial instrument for that port from the WA Industrial Relations Commission to set aside what the union considers to be sham partnership arrangements,” the union’s assistant federal secretary Andrew Williamson was quoted as saying.

BHP relies on Port Hedland as the sole export location for its West Australian iron ore.

BHP also works with Rivtow for tug services at Hay Point, where the miner exports coal.

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