Workers have walked off the job at the Coode Island Terminals, citing safety concerns for Yarraville, Footscray and Newport residents.
A series of 24-hour stoppages will become indefinite industrial action by Saturday as workers take strike action to highlight plans from management they say will elevate the risk of a major catastrophe involving chemicals stored at the site.
Terminals Pty Ltd handles dangerous goods including highly flammable liquids such as ethanol and E10 fuels as well as combustible liquids including solvents and base oils.
The company supplies businesses including Qenos, Unilever, CSL and Mobil.
In 1991 a 600,000 litre chemical storage tank filled with acrylonitrile exploded at the site, sparking a series of explosions that sent a cloud of smoke and chemicals across the city and prompted the evacuation of Footscray Primary School.
Workers say plans to reduce the number of workers responsible for unloading dangerous chemicals from ships pose a serious safety risk.
The National Union of Workers says the company wants to cut hours and change their spread, which will not only adversely affect safety and workers’ time with their families, but will leave them $4000 worse off each year.
NUW Industrial Officer Matt Toner said the workers are seeking a roll-over of their existing agreement with a 2.5 per cent wage rise.
He said company made a $15.5 million profit last year whereas the workers’ claims would cost less than $30,000 per year.
“There are 10 people here with more than 200 years experience between them,” he said.
Mr Toner said the stoppages will have a flow-on effect throughout companies that need to access the chemicals.
Products going through the facility are needed in the food manufacturing industry, and the action at Coode Island will impact other industries during the busy Christmas period.
“Workers are taking action because they care about their communities, and want safe, fairly paid and secure jobs for people in Melbourne’s west” Mr Toner said.
“We know in this busy Christmas period there is a lot of pressure on the terminals, given the food and other manufacturing companies the company at Coode Island supplies to, but safety and quality jobs cannot be compromised”.
Terminals Pty Ltd has not responded to requests for comment.