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PILOT cutter crews at the Port of Mackay are stopping work for 24 hours starting from 0800 on Wednesday.

The move by members of the Australian Maritime Officers Union and the Maritime Union of Australia will halt Smit Lamnalco’s pilot cutter operations at the port.

AMOU Queensland organiser Tracey Ellis said: “the pilot boat crews do a highly skilled, dangerous job taking marine pilots to ships in all weather conditions and should be remunerated accordingly”.

Smit Lamnalco regional managing director David Fethers said the work stoppage would prevent all pilot vessel transfers in the Port of Mackay and remove the backup pilot transfer service for the neighbouring port of Hay Point.

He said pilot transfers at Hay Point are usually performed by helicopter, but pilot transfers are performed by launch vessel if the helicopters are unable to operate due to adverse weather or mechanical issues.

“This is part of a union campaign to increase remuneration and crewing levels to meet with a claimed ‘industry standard’ for pilot vessels,” Mr Fethers said.

He said Smit Lamnalco was awarded the tender in August 2021 and commenced bargaining for an enterprise agreement later that year.

“SLTA has eight permanent employees (two full-time masters, two full-time GPHs, and four part-time relief employees),” Mr Fethers said.

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Mr Fethers said the unions are seeking an immediate increase in salaries plus superannuation which would lead to a 47% remuneration increase for masters and a 60% remuneration increase for GPHs. With a further salary increase of 3% or CPI per year (whichever is higher) over four years.

The unions said cost of living in Mackay has “forced these workers to resort to desperate measures by taking action”.

Ms Ellis said when Smit Lamnalco began operations at Mackay, they also reduced crewing from three rostered crews down to only two fulltime crews and a 33% part time crew.

“The remaining 166 days of the third crew position in the roster is now covered by masters who need to make themselves available on a roster for free and only get paid on the off chance they get engaged,” Ms Ellis said.

“Given that the crews are required to man a 24-hour on-demand service, it’s a disgraceful casualisation and has increased the workload on the crews considerably. In the 11 months since Smit Lamnalco has been operating the pilot boats, four permanent masters and two permanent deckhands have resigned, clearly showing how inadequate the conditions are.”

Paul Gallagher from the MUA said, “It’s only a matter of time before this dispute over a small number of underpaid workers affects the whole coal export supply chain at the Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Terminals.”

Ms Ellis said: “The crews just want to return to a safe crewing level, wage parity with the other NQBP pilot boat operations and a real-world wage increase that at least keeps up with CPI to prevent them slipping backwards by the year”.

Mr Fethers said SLTA has made a variety of concessions during EA negotiations to date, including engaging additional employees, removing standby requirements for full-time employees, and reducing requirements to attend for maintenance.

“To date, the unions have maintained every item on their original log of claims and have not made any concessions on any part of it. The effect of the unions’ claims would approximately triple SLTA’s labour costs, together with a significant reduction in productivity, and would require us to run the operation at a loss,” he said.

“In more than 30 years in the maritime industry, this is the most excessive set of union demands I’ve ever seen. We’re looking to strike a reasonable deal for everyone, but the unions aren’t budging from their ludicrously excessive claims.”

This article has been amended to remove statements about Auriga/Australian Reef Pilots that were not factual.

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