The Sydney branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and its supporters have rallied each day at Circular Quay since February 10.
The community assemblies are being held in protest at the refusal of Bass and Flinders, the private operators of a new fast ferry service to and from Manly, to negotiate with the MUA.
The new service was part of a reform of Sydney's ferries that was justified by the occurrence of a series of accidents in Sydney Harbour. In a flyer being distributed at the Circular Quay actions, the MUA argues that the reform process "was more about breaking down the public system which is an icon than about making ferries safer".
It seems clear that the partial privatisation of the Manly ferry service is the thin edge of the wedge, and is the opening volley of an agenda to fully privatise Sydney Ferries.
The MUA is also concerned about some of the industrial practices of Bass and Flinders. The company appears to want to cling to vestiges of the Work Choices legislation and has put in place a non-union agreement for the new service.
The MUA attempted to negotiate an agreement with Bass and Flinders, with the base wage rate based on that of the commuter ferry operations, but the company refused, instead cutting wages on the new service by 25% and leave by 20%.
The MUA is also concerned that there are at least five serious safety issues with the new operation:
The vessels are designed for whale watching rather than a high-speed commuter service.
The operators have not demonstrated that their employees have been provided with appropriate passenger and vessel security training.
The ferry masters working for the new operators have not completed high-speed training in addition to their base maritime qualifications.
The vessels have a number of occupational health and safety issues that have not been addressed and are not compatible with the Manly Wharf and Circular Quay berths.
There are issues around access and egress of passengers, particularly disabled passengers, from the vessels and appropriate risk assessments have not been finalised.
Numerous observations by rally participants during the first two days of community assemblies at Circular Quay confirm these safety concerns.
The community assemblies continue twice daily at Wharf 2, Circular Quay from 6.00am to 9.30am and from 3.00pm to 6.30pm. The afternoon assemblies in particular have been growing with each day.
[For more information visit <http://www.mua.org.au>.]