Coal spill safety concern

A SHIPLOADER was damaged when Port Waratah Coal Services used staff to operate its coal terminals during a strike on Thursday.

Unions say the incident underlines the safety concerns they say are driving the industrial action, while management says it was a run-of-the-mill ‘‘incident’’ that would otherwise not have come to public attention.

At about 1pm on Thursday, a shiploader filling the Pacific Triangle at Kooragang Island overfilled one of the ship’s holds, spilling tonnes of coal onto the deck of the ship.

The Maritime Union of Australia alleges coal went into the water but the company denies this.

It admits that part of the shiploader – a ‘‘trimmer flap’’ – was damaged in the incident but said it was a ‘‘low risk occurrence’’ that would be fixed without problem.

The union’s national assistant secretary, Ian Bray, said the damage was ‘‘significant’’.

The Pacific Triangle being loaded on Thursday.

‘‘This incident underscores why we believe PWCS must drop its mind-boggling and short-sighted anti-union resistance to a fair workplace agreement that addresses the genuine safety concerns of local workers,” Mr Bray said.

The incident happened during a four-hour strike yesterday – one of a series of rolling stoppages taken by more than 220 unionised employees pushing for a new enterprise agreement.

Both sides agree the only sticking point of the long-running dispute relates to aspects of the dispute settling procedures, and a single bargaining unit formed of the MUA and three other unions says it has offered a compromise.

PWCS has ensured enough staff are ‘‘ticketed’’ to operate during the stoppages, but the unions say the practice is dangerous and say they warned the company months ago about the risk.

MUA branch secretary Glen Williams said the ship would be delayed by at least 12 hours.

‘‘The union has raised concerns about the competency of staff performing our members’ roles whilst our members were taking protected industrial action,” Mr Williams said.

He confirmed a four-hour stoppage at PWCS today followed by eight-hour strikes on Saturday and Sunday.

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