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Issue #1671      February 4, 2015

Harbour ferries hit heavy weather

Sydney Harbour’s famed Australia Day ferry race went close to being short of starters last month, due to the refusal of the fleet’s operators to get on board with union members who keep the craft seaworthy.

The “ferrython” did go ahead after the unionists who maintain the iconic fleet put the public’s enjoyment first, but not before members made their point to Harbour City Ferries bosses.

The workers have imposed overtime bans on the upkeep and refuelling of the fleet because their employer refuses to give assurances on job security. Talks over the next union agreement have struck heavy weather, dragging on for over six months after Sydney Ferries bosses declared they intend to cut maintenance jobs by a third.

Riggers, fitters, mechanics and crane drivers at the Balmain shipyards are seeking a guarantee of no forced redundancies, but the Harbour City Ferries owners want an exemption for “unforeseen business issues” after two years.

That’s wide enough to drive a Manly ferry through.

“Sydney Ferries won’t train the current workforce for maintenance on new ferries due to come into service in coming years, we believe they want the supplier of those ferries to do all the maintenance so the workforce at Balmain can be cut,” said Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) acting NSW state secretary Robyn Fortescue.

“That makes no practical sense operating ferries day-to-day; it is bad for workers and bad for passengers because the service would be less reliable.”

Angry shipyard workers voted unanimously for protected industrial action, with action.

AMWU delegate Bob Aitchison said management wanted the bulk of the pay increase in the final year of the agreement – by which time a third of the workforce could be gone.

“We’ve been bargaining in good faith with positive suggestions, but they keep demanding more so the boys are fed up,” he said.

Next article – Individual contracts on agenda – Anti-union wave coming Part 2

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