[UPDATE] Australian Iron Ore Port Strike Put Off For Now
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), which represents the deckhands of the tugboat operator Teekay Shipping in Port Hedland, has agreed to push back the port strike for 30 days, until the end of June. However, the MUA is still seeking a 30-day extension on an existing approval for a strike to give more time for talks with Teekay.
Port Hedland is Australia’s biggest iron ore port, responsible for more than half of Australia’s iron ore exports. BHP Billiton and Fortescue, along with Atlas Iron, would all be gravely affected by the strike. Deckhands have threatened to strike for up to seven days, and at $100 million a day in iron ore sales at stake, these iron ore giants are not pleased.
"There is something wrong with our industrial relations laws when a small group of 45 people who would like to only work 22 weeks a year and be paid a base rate about three times the base wage of a first year nurse...can hold to ransom an industry that generates more export earnings than any other," Fortescue CEO Nev Power said.
Currently, deckhands work for 28 days, and then get 28 days off. They are paid around A$135,000 ($124,400) a year. Their demands include a 20 percent pay increase and 4 more weeks of holiday time. The deckhands and MUA have justified these demands by stating the long hours worked are the equivalent to what people usually put in over 54 weeks.
Currently, Fortescue is preparing to apply to the Fair Work labor tribunal in an effort to stop the strike, citing the industrial action taken by MUA would significantly harm the company, which is not directly involved in the dispute or talks.
"In the event of a strike, Fortescue will be forced to consider standing down its operations and the associated workforces for indefinite periods of time," Power said.
Iron ore is Australia’s biggest export earner, and a major source of royalties and taxes. These giant mining companies could also cite these as reasons to the labor tribunal, or possibly the government, for stopping the strike.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.