Car cavalcade protests ferry worker sackings

Outside the NRMA office in Olympic Park on March 27. Photo: Kelton Muir

Two companies have used the COVID-19 pandemic to justify mass sackings of ferry workers, who were not given any notice or option to take special leave.

NRMA sacked about 50 workers from Manly Fast Ferry and Fantasea Cruising. The SeaLink Travel Group, that operates 13 vessels on Sydney Harbour under the Captain Cook Cruise brand, sacked about 130 staff.

The May 1 Movement and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney Branch organised a car cavalcade to converge on the NRMA office in Olympic Park on March 27.

MUA branch secretary Paul McAleer said on March 25 NRMA had informed the casual maritime crew in the middle of the night by email that they had been sacked, effective immediately.

“Despite years of loyal service, these crew members are facing financial ruin, with their jobs gone overnight and management refusing to provide any financial assistance during their time of greatest need,” McAleer said.

While the union is prepared to work with employers to deliver job security during the crisis, McAleer said, it would also demand justice from “any company that attempts to use the pandemic to undermine the economic and industrial interests of our members”.

McAleer pointed out that SeaLink and NRMA are large organisations “with massive cash reserves”. They have “capacity to provide assistance to their workers ... but instead have made a deliberate choice not to help them”.

He said that while casual workers have been the first to be sacked, “neither company has provided any commitment to retain permanent staff, or provide financial assistance if there is a stand down.

“That indicates that a lot more jobs are at risk,” McAleer said.

The convoy of about 30 cars, flying MUA flags and promoting messages including “Casual workers’ rights now” and “Safety not sackings”, weaved its way through Olympic Park to the NRMA offices, where it stopped to sound horns and hear from speakers.

Former Fast Ferries worker Jordi Ortin said: “So many workers been stood down and are now at home struggling to pay rent and feed kids.

"The government is not offering enough. We need more from NRMA. We need help to pay bills.”

McAleer told the protest that companies must be condemned for “economic crimes committed on behalf of big business and their mates in government.

“We have shown today that there is a movement that is fighting back against these attacks. We will continue the fight until we get the justice we deserve.”

The car convoy blockaded the NRMA offices for one and a half hours.

The protest was organised as part of a COVID-19 day of action for workers’ rights and health. Actions also took place outside a Centrelink office and the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales in Sydney’s CBD.