Thursday, September 21, 2023
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
For the second week in a row, marine staff from Cruise Whitsundays are on strike and, while their right to protest is acknowledged, many are frustrated that their behaviour has disrupted countless travel plans during the busy school holiday period.
Three vessels are unable to operate, multiple subsidiary local businesses and suppliers have been impacted and workers commuting to nearby resort islands have been unable to transit.
The strike is expected to last for seven days, for the school holiday period, impacting holiday plans for thousands of holiday makers and possibly the overall reputation of the Whitsundays as a holiday destination.
Frustrated marine workers are striking once again this week to demand fairer pay, requesting a 30 per cent wage increase to align with “industry standards”.
Meanwhile, the marine company they work for is scrabbling to accommodate disgruntled tourists and manage disrupted ferry timetables during one of the busiest weeks of the year.
Timed to cause maximum impact during a busy school holiday period, there is no doubt the workers have made their point, but their actions in causing such significant disruption to many innocent holiday-maker’s plans is sitting uneasily with many members of the community.
The initial protest began last Friday morning when about 30 Cruise Whitsundays staff members held a peaceful picket line at the marine terminal.
A representative, who requested to stay anonymous, said that the motivations for the strike are a last resort at the end of a long battle to ask for fairer pay.
“The right of the employees to negotiate a different agreement has been refused time and time again,” they said.
“They left us no choice but to engage with the maritime union and with the fair work commission.
“A lot of workers are literally one cent above minimum wage – they’ve had a year to get on the negotiation table and they’ve put us less than a dollar up.”
Meanwhile, Adam Hosie, Cruise Whitsundays General Manager said that since July 2022 they have implemented pay increases totalling six per cent and have now proposed an immediate further average increase of over five per cent and higher for those with longer tenure.
“The new wage offer, which was proposed to take immediate effect, would see crew pay rates between 4.8 per cent to 44.4 per cent above award, depending on their position, skill level, and tenure,” he explained.
A meeting between Cruise Whitsundays and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) took place on Monday, but no resolution was reached.
“Workers left the meeting in bewilderment at a pay offer from the company that amounted to between $1 and $1.50 per hour for a small percentage of staff,” said MUA Queensland Branch Secretary, Jason Miners.
“The company’s offer is completely unacceptable, an unfair and indefensible position, so we have no choice but to take further industrial action,” he said.
Protestors also allege that the Current Enterprise Agreement expired in March 2022 and that Cruise Whitsundays are refusing to negotiate reasonable terms on any matters.
In response, Cruise Whitsundays says it acknowledges it has reached “its nominal expiry date” but contests that “the agreement continues to apply until a new agreement comes into effect”.
They also state that “over the course of these negotiations, Cruise Whitsundays has put forward multiple proposals for review by our Bargaining Committee and MUA representatives”.
“We have agreed to and resolved almost all matters presented, however we have not received any reasonable or sustainable wage proposals for review. Despite invitations for feedback from the MUA, we have not received any,” said Mr Hosie.
The biggest point of contention for protestors, however, is their perceived rate of pay compared to other marine staff operating similar tours in the same area.
Cruise Whitsundays’ marine workers protesting outside the terminal on Friday last week. Photo credit: Rachael Smith
An unusually quiet Cruise Whitsundays terminal that would normally be a hive of activity over the busy school holiday period. Photo credit: Rachael Smith
“We are over at South Whitehaven Beach every day and SeaLink and Cruise Whitsunday are doing exactly the same thing, except there is a 30 per cent disparity in wages between the vessels across the board,” said the anonymous protestor.
“At least match SeaLink – come to industry standard, we are not asking for millions - for them to be able to afford to pay us properly it will be a dollar and a half to $13 extra on different tickets. We’ve done the maths, and it will mean putting the ticket price to Whitehaven up by just $7.50.”
Cruise Whitsundays alleges that despite repeated requests, the MUA is yet to produce any supporting documentation that demonstrates this claim.
The company also states that a 30 per cent increase is unsustainable for the business.
“The MUA claims a "30 per cent disparity in wages" between Cruise Whitsundays and other workers in the same industry but has provided no data or wage comparisons to other local businesses with Marine Tourism as their core business,” said Mr Hosie.
“While Cruise Whitsundays has continued to negotiate in good faith, presenting fair and sustainable offers, the MUA is steadfast in demanding an uplift of 30 per cent in pay rates across the board. “
Mr Hosie also asserts that increasing ticket prices does not directly correlate to wage increases.
“These ticket price calculations have been discussed with MUA officials and it was agreed that a number of factors had been overlooked in the calculations, resulting in significantly substantial increases being required to cover the requested wage increases,” he said.
In regard to accusations that staff are only being paid “literally one cent above minimum wage”, Cruise Whitsundays stated that “this as a result of current negotiation of pay rates being underway, and increases to our lowest level roles were applied from 1 July 2023 to ensure that everyone is paid at or above award until the new rates would take effect.
“Subsequent discussions have seen agreement on a rates calculation that achieves well above award rates,” explains Mr Hosie.
While both parties are looking for a swift and positive outcome, it seems they remain poles apart in terms of what they are able or willing to agree to.
“Although only a minority of our staff are taking protected action, all of our staff are feeling the effects,” said Mr Hosie.
“From the Reservations team who must call and disappoint our guests, to the catering team who are unsure how to plan for the coming weeks, to the marine staff who are happy to accept the fair proposal and get on with their jobs, everyone is affected.
“Additionally, we are also mindful of the many local suppliers who rely on the consistent weekly work that Cruise Whitsundays provides.”
Rick Hamilton, CEO of Tourism Whitsundays said he deeply regrets the timing of the strike during the school holidays, when our beautiful Whitsundays are at their prime.
“It's disheartening to see this disruption during such a busy time, with many of our operators running at capacity,” he said.
“The Whitsundays have been thriving with 90 per cent occupancy and it's disappointing that this action has coincided with a time when guests had planned to make the most of their Whitsundays experience.”
Hundreds of families can no longer enjoy a day out on Whitehaven Beach with Cruise Whitsundays because of the strike. Photo credit: supplied