Sydney Ferries – In-sourcing of Four Charter Vessels

Published: 28 Jan 2020

Today marks a landmark day for ferry workers at Sydney Ferries.

Your Daily Crew Checklist today sees four vessels, the Mary Reiby, Rocket Alice, Annabell Rankin and Rocket Jillian crewed by union members. Not only are they crewed by union members, but the crews are paid the same rate of pay as other ferry workers under the Harbour City Ferries Maritime Agreement 2018.

This outcome fought for solely by the Maritime Union of Australia has finally been realised.

The growth of charter vessels operating on a daily basis has been due to the ongoing failure of successive Governments of both sides to adequately provide ferries for daily usage in the Sydney Ferries fleet. Opportunism by Government and companies alike allowed for workers on those vessels chartered in to be paid wages inferior to ferry workers at Sydney Ferries.

In 2018, the MUA Sydney Branch Executive continued to campaign with Sydney Ferries, Transport for NSW and the Minister for Transport to bring the outsourcing of your rightful work to an end. Your union pressed that the exploitation must cease and Sydney Ferries be given an adequate number of vessels and the workers the correct rate of pay and conditions.

The MUA Sydney Branch Executive supported by Delegates on your MUA Shop Committee continued pursuing this goal until it was ultimately achieved and signed off in an Agreement In Principle between the MUA and Transport for NSW on 2 October 2018. So significant was the outcome, Transport for NSW were required to amend their tender documents that had been issued to the companies seeking to operate the Ferry Systems Contract with Transport for NSW to accommodate the insourcing of these vessels.

These four vessels being insourced create new lines of work. For General Purpose Hands, these are new roster lines and new jobs which the MUA will seek to make permanent.

For the Masters role, this is a new opportunity for MUA members to get their tickets. Transdev Sydney Ferries have elected to bring in four vessels that were surplus to the Captain Cook Cruises fleet. Those vessels for the entirety of their career have been operated by Masters who hold a Master V / Master 24 Certificate of Competency (CoC). They provide opportunity for training for GPHs and Inner Harbour Engineers inside of Sydney Ferries with the goal of creating a career path towards the Master IV / Master 35 CoC.

In recent months, the MUA has been able to secure two vessels to be used for members who have their Master V / Master 24 CoC to get command time.

This outcome has not been easy to achieve and has seen significant resistance.

The MUA has never moved to displace any permanent Masters in achieving this goal. These four vessels are surplus to the fleet and present new opportunities as no jobs have been lost by the insourcing. These four vessels were never crewed by TSF (or formerly HCF) employees in Sydney Ferries. The MUA also note that these vessels provide opportunity to create new roster lines for Master V / Master 24 employees to accrue sea-time without affecting any other roster line. It gives opportunity for both General Purpose Hands and Inner Harbour Engineers to get sea-time whilst staying inside the business.

The implementation of the new vessels and the training has left a lot to be desired, with some in operational management deliberately leaving the implementation and particularly training to the last minute. This has led to the question and perception that there has been a move to obstruct or restrict a career path for MUA members.

As members would recall during the endorsement meeting for the Harbour City Ferries Maritime Agreement 2018, many questions were asked from the floor about the opportunity for a career path with these new vessels so they could accrue sea-time without being required leaving the business.

This request from members was fair and to this day, remains warranted. It leads to the questions:

  • Why should MUA members need to leave the company to gain sea-time working on charter vessels?
  • Why should MUA members be required to subject themselves to the exploitative nature of working on vessels that have questionable safety standards?
  • Why should MUA members be required to accept rates of pay often less than the Award?
  • Why should MUA members subject themselves to being required to work on their rostered day off, go on leave without pay, or utilising their accrued leave just for sea-time.

There is a way to get your qualifications without being subjected to substandard employment conditions just because the opportunities on Sydney Harbour are limited. There is no shame in lifting the bar and the standards for training in our industry. There are many Ferry Masters at Sydney Ferries who once had the benefit of working in dignified and unionised workplaces in the maritime industry to achieve their sea time. Stannards, Hegarty Ferries, Harbour Lighterage and the Northside Storage Tunnel to name but a few of these workplaces. Those opportunities to drive smaller vessels have reduced over the years, leaving the charter boat industry as one of the few opportunities to gain sea-time.  

The four vessels that operate under your EBA as of today marks the next chapter for ferry workers to get their sea-time and opportunities for career advancement through a good union job.

And that is something that we as Maritime Union of Australia members can be proud of.

This achievement is not something that has simply happened in the past few years, but has been an ongoing campaign for the MUA Sydney Branch Executive and was a vision that goes back decades to the predecessor to the MUA, the Firemen and Deckhands Union of NSW. The leadership then supported a dignified opportunity for workers to progress their maritime qualifications and career without being required to subject their labour to exploitation. A goal which the MUA continues to support through to this day.

Your MUA Shop Committee and MUA Sydney Branch Executive will continue working through this to ensure these vessels, the on-demand vessels and the new River class vessels have a rightful space for MUA members and most importantly, an internal career path for MUA members within Sydney Ferries.

In Unity 

Paul Garrett

Nathan Donato

Assistant Branch Secretaries




Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney