They are a small group of mariners with one of the most important jobs at Port Kembla.
But a dispute between Port Kembla’s eight marine pilots and the state government-owned Port Kembla Port Corporation (PKPC) is now at risk of escalating into potentially crippling industrial action, the pilots’ union said.
The marine pilots are responsible for guiding vessels in and out of the harbour.
If they went on strike, ships would effectively be forced to queue off the coast.
It would also have flow-on effects for the region and put the port at risk of losing customers, port management warned.
Negotiations over a new enterprise agreement began in February but have reached a stalemate.
The pilots are likely to vote in the next week on whether to authorise an extensive list of actions including stop-work meetings and strikes.
The stoppages would only go ahead if their protected action ballot was successful and a deal was not reached first.
Australian Maritime Officers Union director Michael Fleming said the dispute related to pay, insurance, income protection and fatigue management. On all counts, conditions for pilots at Port Kembla were worse than at state-government owned ports in Sydney and in Newcastle, he said.
‘‘The latest offer from the PKPC is for a 2.5per cent wage increase, which would mean that the marine pilots would be the only employees of the PKPC, and also the Sydney Ports Corporation and the Newcastle Port Corporation, that would not be getting a 4per cent... increase,’’ he said.
‘‘The union on behalf of the pilots is very angry and it looks like it’s going to be a major dispute disrupting shipping movements into and out of Port Kembla,’’ Mr Fleming added.
‘‘It’s going to involve a delay to car carriers, to coal shipments, to wheat exports and shipping services to the steel mill.’’
Pilots at Port Kembla receive in the order of $200,000 to $250,000 per year.
The union claim would also limit pilots to three ship movements in any shift, normally 12 hours.
The dispute comes as the state government pushes ahead with its plans to privatise Port Kembla on a 99-year lease.
PKPC chief executive officer Dom Figliomeni said the union’s pay claim should be viewed in the context of its full log of claims.
He also said Port Kembla was a stand-alone entity.
‘‘We did offer 2.5per cent within the government wages policy, but offered a greater increase than 2.5per cent subject to finding the appropriate cost savings,’’ he said.
Mr Figliomeni also said management believed existing workers’ compensation was appropriate.
‘‘We’ll work within the legislation that is available and we will do everything we can to try and minimise the disruption to the port and to our customers,’’ he said.
‘‘The Port Corporation is more than prepared to negotiate and offer reasonable outcomes.’’