Workers who froze their pay to help save the Port Kembla steelworks will lose their jobs and be replaced by overseas crews on foreign vessels, after mining giant BHP terminated two 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 WA to the steelworks.
The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) and Australian Maritime Officers Union have condemned the move, saying more than 70 Australian officers and seafarers would lose their jobs.
BHP will use foreign crews on foreign ships to carry the same product between the two ports, the unions said.
AIMPE federal secretary Martin Byrne said the Aussie crews aboard the two ships agreed to a pay freeze in October, 2014 – specifically to help the steelworks return to profitability.
Mr 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 workers’ last day of employment was unknown.
Mr Byrne said the ships operated 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.
One of the vessels, the Mariloula, has discharged its last cargo and was now at anchor off Hong Kong.
The other, the Lowlands Brilliance, was under way with coal destined for China.
“Once that’s discharged, its working days – with an Australian crew at least – will be over,” he said.
The unions said the federal government’s temporary licence scheme made it easy for BHP and BlueScope to abandon Australian shipping in favour of foreign-crewed ships.
It has called for the federal government to “intervene to reverse this attempt to further abandon Australian shipping and Australian seafarers”.
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.”