Fortescue Metals has threatened to stand down workers if a threatened tugboat deckhand strike at Port Hedland goes ahead.
Following BHP Billiton flagging this week that it may use national interest laws to ask the government to prevent the strike, Fortescue said it would also use the Fair Work Act to intervene.
Tugboat deckhand members of the Maritime Workers Union (MUA) voted to take industrial action last week after failing to reach an agreement with Teekay Shipping.
MUA WA Assistant Branch Secretary Will Tracey says the deckhands are not paid enough, getting only 62 per cent of the $220,000 that a skipper receives compared to 70 per cent at other Australian ports.
Fortescue chief executive Nev Power said the industrial action would threaten the livelihoods of thousands of Australians and cost millions of dollars in lost government royalties and tax revenues that will put pressure on health, education and emergency services.
“Fortescue employs more than 8,000 people, including 1,000 Aboriginal people at its operations,” he said.
“In the event of a strike, Fortescue will be forced to consider standing down its operations and the associated workforces for indefinite periods of time.
Mr Power said there was something wrong with industrial relations laws.
“There is something wrong with our industrial relations laws when a small group of 45 people wanted to only work 22 weeks a year and be paid a base rate about three times the base wage of a first year nurse in the Victorian health system can hold to ransom an industry that generates more export earnings than any other and is relied upon for significant revenues to state and federal governments,” he said.
A strike would mean lost sales for BHP, Fortescue and Atlas Iron that are already under pressure with iron ore prices slumping to 20-month lows and below $US100 a tonne.