Maritime union rally

Union promise 'torturous' debate with Rio Tinto

THE seafarers' union has vowed to launch a "torturous public debate" about Rio Tinto hiring foreign staff to ship goods between Australian ports.

The Maritime Union Australia members rallied outside Rio Tinto's Brisbane offices on Thursday, demanding more Australian seafarers be hired on ships transporting goods in and out of Gladstone.

MUA Queensland Branch secretary Bob Carnegie said most Rio Tinto ships from Weipa to Gladstone and from Gladstone to Newcastle had no Australian workers on board.

The unionists locked down a Brisbane CBD street, chanting and marching, after Mr Carnegie delivered a letter to the Rio Tinto offices addressed to general manager Peter Mannion, demanding more work for local seafarers.

"Australian merchant seafarers demand and expect to have the right to work in their own country, respected and acknowledged by employment on the vessels Rio Tinto owns and operates and charters on the Australian coast," the letter read.

"Our resolve is strong and if necessary we will engage Rio Tinto in a long torturous public debate about how the second largest mining house in the world justifies employing foreign nationals at a pittance whilst skilled Australian merchant seafarers are forced onto the dole."

A Rio Tinto spokeswoman said the company remained open to further discussions with the union.

"Rio Tinto uses both Australian and foreign crewed vessels in our operations and all vessels operated or chartered by Rio Tinto are required to comply with Australian and international shipping standards, as well as the International Transport Works Federation agreement," she said.

"We remain open to further discussions with the MUA on matters related to the 2010 Framework Agreement and the efforts of both parties to meet the agreed standards."

Rio Tinto's building doors were shut and about 15 police officers watched the rally. -NewsRegional