THE CREW of bunker barge Champion 63 is launching protected industrial action, beginning with a work stoppage this weekend.

Champion 63 is a bunkering tanker that services vessels around the Port of Brisbane. The crew, represented by the Australian Maritime Officers Union, Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, is seeking to establish an updated enterprise agreement.

The crew voted up an unlimited number of stoppages of work of between one hour and 48 hours. The unions have issued notice of an eight-hour work stoppage on Saturday 15 June, commencing at 0600, and again on 18 June, also commencing at 0600.

The action is driven by claims of poor employment conditions from the crew, such as unfair wages, unsuitable roster arrangements and an inability to take leave.

The claims were levied against both ASP Ship Management and bp, with ASP responsible for manning and managing the crew, and bp acting as charter.

The AMOU and MUA claim that attempts to begin negotiations for a new enterprise agreement were met with long delays from ASP, which the union says took six months to begin bargaining after vessel operations began in February 2023.

The unions said the crew is “running on empty”.

“The crew of the new bunker barge on the Brisbane River and the maritime unions bent over backwards to make this vessel work, including low wages, excessive hours and a roster that does not allow crew to take leave,” MUA assistant branch secretary Paul Gallagher said.

“Eighteen months down the track when it comes time for bp to reward their crew and pay industry standards what do they do? They deny them fair wages, a workable roster and threaten their back pay.”

The AMOU filed a bargaining dispute after claiming the ASP would not see eye-to-eye over a new roster that didn’t force crews to work every weekend.

“Having to work every weekend because ASP does not have suitable relief arrangements is unacceptable,” AMOU industrial officer Tracey Ellis said.

“Crews have a right to be rostered time off to spend with their family. Waiting for ASP to fix the issue did not work, filing a Bargaining Dispute in the Fair Work Commission did not work, so the crews will take protected industrial action until their concerns are taken seriously.”

Tracey Ellis told DCN the seven crew members are all on “common law” individual contracts, stating their side endured lengthy waits from ASP to start negotiations, and the issue itself not being fixed.

“If ASP think they can buy their way out of working the crews every weekend, then they need to sharpen their pencil,” she said.

Ms Ellis said the union has asked for an extra half crew to be employed so that each crew can work a two-week on, one-week off roster. She revealed that the AMOU was willing to accept the offer if this 2:1 condition was met, but the ASP rejected it.

The current problem, she said, is that as operations also occur on weekends, the current crew are expected to work seven days a week as necessary.

ASP Ships Group said it acknowledges the concerns raised by the three unions regarding the ongoing negotiations for a new enterprise agreement.

“We understand the frustrations expressed by our valued crew members and are committed to finding a fair and equitable resolution that addresses their concerns regarding wages, working hours, and rostering arrangements,” ASP said in a statement.

“ASP Ships Group values the well-being of our employees and recognises their essential role in our operations. We are actively engaged in discussions with the unions and are hopeful that a mutually agreeable solution can be reached promptly.

“We are aware of the potential impact this situation may have on cruise ship schedules and apologise for any inconvenience this may cause to passengers. We are working diligently to minimise disruptions and ensure the smooth operation of our services.”

ASP said it remains committed to “open communication and good faith negotiations” with the unions.

“We are confident that through continued dialogue, we can achieve a positive outcome for all parties involved.”

And a bp spokesperson told DCN: “bp hopes a mutually agreeable solution between ASP Ships Group and its employees can be reached as soon as possible.”

This article has been updated to include comment from bp.