THE Maritime Union of Australia has accused Engage Marine of replacing 19 workers at the Port of Abbot Point with interstate workers.

Engage Marine, however, has said at the conclusion of its recruitment process, it will employ 24 full-time workers who will live in the Bowen area, 12 of whom are employees of the existing local operator and 10 are existing north Queensland residents. Two are from elsewhere and have personal and family connections to the area, the company said.

In a statement, Engage Marine said it is currently progressing an enterprise agreement with the maritime unions for its new employees at Abbot Point.

North Queensland Bulk Ports awarded Engage Marine the contract to run towage operations at the port in April. It is due to commence operations on 1 October.

When the contract was announced, Engage Marine CEO Mark Malone said the company would work closely with the existing workforce and their representatives to offer them first priority of continuing their roles at the port.

“A heavy emphasis will be placed on employment from the Bowen area and to avoid FIFO where possible,” he said.

However, today MUA Queensland Assistant Branch Secretary Paul Gallagher said Engage Marine had now walked away from the commitment.

“When the Queensland Government-owned North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation announced Engage Marine had been awarded the lucrative towage contract for Abbot Point, a firm commitment was made that local crews would see their employment continue,” Mr Gallagher said.

“Just months later, Engage Marine is attempting to walk away from that agreement, denying work to the 19 Bowen locals that currently operate tugs at the port and revealing they actually intend to bring in employees from Western Australia and elsewhere.”

Mr Gallagher said the union would refuse to accept its members being “thrown on the unemployment scrap heap”.

In its statement, Engage Marine said it undertook an expression of interest method for its recruitment campaign.

“This EOI was issued directly to the current employees of existing local operators, the internal Engage Marine workforce and dedicated local media outlets to ensure that we recruited the most capable and experienced team with a heavy emphasis on recruiting a local Bowen and north Queensland-based workforce,” the statement said.

“All employees of the existing local operator who submitted an EOI were offered interviews for the relevant position, and several chose to have a representative present during their interview to increase their confidence having not been through an interview process for quite some time.”

The company said it followed a “fair and equitable” process to select the “optimal combination of skill and experience to look after the new tugs arriving in Bowen and our ability to expertly service the customers of Abbot Point Terminal”.

“Engage Marine believe we have upheld their commitment to a fully localised workforce and have established a high-quality team,” the company said.

“We very much look forward to commencing operations in North Queensland in October this year, and also working closely together with North Queensland Bulk Ports to make sure the new service is world class, highly competent and strives for the highest levels of safety, operational capability and local engagement with the community of Bowen.”