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Local Heros Forgo Pay To Get Kids and Sick Across the River

Mar 6, 2024

Wire-drawn ferry operators volunteered their services without pay, ensuring children can attend school and emergency services can function smoothly. Amid a contentious dispute over pay and conditions with ferry contractor Birdon Group and the NSW government, ferry operators have engaged in rolling strikes, with potential escalation looming if a satisfactory pay offer remains elusive.

During the recent 24-hour strike recently, no operator received any compensation but they made sure vital services continued. “For the entire duration of that 24 hours, our members volunteered to crew every ferry without pay, ensuring children could get to school and emergency services could cross,” Maritime Union of Australia branch organiser, Shane Reside said.

“On the Monday afternoon, we transported a man from Wisemans Ferry for scheduled heart surgery,” he said.

Ferry workers on the Sackville Ferry, Wisemans Ferry, Webbs Creek Ferry, Berowra Waters Ferry and Mortlake Ferry are entangled in a protracted pay and conditions dispute with Birdon and TfNSW. Despite months of negotiations, no offer has been presented. Birdon has now sought assisted bargaining from the Fair Work Commission, a move met with skepticism by Reside. For thousands of residents the dispute means commutes of up to five hours’ extra travel time on remote roads.

“I don’t understand why the company is bothering with assisted bargaining. The commissioner has no powers to compel either party to act. The issue is that the company and Transport for NSW are still unwilling to come to the table with a serious offer.”

Reside criticised the company’s tactics, calling it a “cynical attempt at delaying or obfuscating their responsibility to actually put an offer on the table.” He added, “It feels like they are trying to incite the union into further strikes. If that’s the game they want to play, then we can deliver that,” warning of longer and more intense strikes.

Federal Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman, has called on Birdon Vehicular Ferries to engage in negotiations with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and TfNSW. “There are two real issues in play here – workers operating these vital ferry services deserve to be fairly paid, and no one wants to see the community inconvenienced further because of Birdon’s unwillingness to negotiate,” Ms Templeman said. “I urge Birdon to do the right thing and engage in meaningful negotiations with the MUA and Transport for NSW,” she said.

State Member for Hawkesbury, Robyn Preston, has called on the NSW government to intervene and says the community was at their “wits end” with local households and businesses harmed by the strikes. “It isn’t good enough that residents are being held to ransom,” she said.

Beyond seeking improved working conditions, ferry workers are advocating for Equal Pay for Equal Work, asserting that they are among the lowest-paid ferry workers in Australia. The union is pushing for a pay increase to $46 per hour, aligning with industry rates, up from the current $31 per hour.

Reside emphasised that after more than six months of negotiations, the lack of a pay offer leaves workers with no alternative. The industrial action aligns with the temporary suspension of the Lower Portland Ferry on January 29 for a minimum of three months as it undergoes maintenance to maintain its commercial license for public service operation.

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