Urgent talks were being held at Port Kembla late yesterday after the port's eight marine pilots endorsed strike action in their industrial dispute over pay and conditions.
Port management had yet to be notified of any strikes after the pilots, who guide large ships in and out of the harbour, approved the use of a wide range of industrial action in a bid to bring negotiations to a head.
The Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) said it planned to notify the Port Kembla Port Corporation of action today unless progress was made towards reaching a new enterprise agreement at yesterday's talks.
Possibilities included short stop-work meetings, unlimited 48-hour or 72-hour strikes, halting night ship movements, stopping non-piloting duties and overtime bans.
A lengthy strike would effectively shut down the port and force ships to queue off the coast.
It would also have a flow-on effect on the region and port users.
AMOU director Michael Fleming said the pilots wanted a 4 per cent pay rise, which he said was in line with other employees at Port Kembla and at state-owned ports in Sydney and Newcastle.
Other issues included insurance, income protection and fatigue management.
"The AMOU and its members are seeking salaries and employment agreements for marine pilots in Port Kembla to be of the same standard that the government has approved for marine pilots in Sydney and Newcastle," he said.
Management and the union have been locked in negotiations over a new enterprise agreement since February.
Yesterday, port corporation chief executive officer Dom Figliomeni said he hoped the talks would avoid industrial unrest, which would depend on which ships wanted access to the port.
"Inevitably if there's a 72-hour strike it will basically halt all port operations and it will equally have flow-on effects to other sites like mine sites, so it is something we take very seriously and will do everything reasonably practicable to avoid," he said.
A 2009 economic impact study showed each ship visit to the port contributed nearly $1 million to the NSW economy.
In the next week, five ships are scheduled to arrive or exit daily.