BHP vows to fight planned Aussie port strike

Port Hedland in Western Australia

BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP) (LON: BLT), the world’s largest miner, said Wednesday it will pursue all means to prevent strikes planned at Australia’s Port Hedland, which could delay iron-ore exports.

Tugboat engineers demanding higher wages and a limit on shift length are set to strike for four hours Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, their union told contractor Teekay Shipping.

Teekay runs tugboats for BHP at the port through which, according to government data, more than half the country’s iron ore is shipped.

BHP estimated in May that disruptions at the port, the world’s biggest export hub for bulk commodities, could cost suppliers including Fortescue Metals (ASX:FMG) and Atlas Iron (ASX:AGO) $A100 million ($93 million) per day, according to Bloomberg.

“Any industrial action has the potential to cost our business, and the local and national economy, millions of dollars. The company intends to pursue all options available to prevent it,” BHP said in a statement.

No major impact

The Melbourne-based firm said the proposed strikes fall outside the period for balloted industrial action and would violate Australian workplace relations law.

For its part, the engineers union said that Teekay is resisting hiring more workers to help cap 12-hour shifts and described talks as being at an impasse, Bloomberg reported.

The media company quoted bank analysts as saying they do not expect the strikes to materially impact the global seaborne iron-ore market or pricing.

BHP and other major iron-ore suppliers, such as Fortescue, Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) and Brazil's Vale (NYSE:VALE), have driven prices down to their lowest levels in nearly three years by increasing production from operations in Australia's northwest, where Port Hedland is located, to displace weaker competitors.

Most shipments are bound for China's steel factories.

Iron-ore prices fell to a two-year low in June and remain about 30% lower than they were at the start of the year.