Thursday, September 28, 2023
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
For the past seven days, thousands of holidays makers have been unable to travel with local marine tourism operator, Cruise Whitsundays, who have had to cancel all experiential tours due to a staff strike.
While the company hoped to resolve the issue following four separate proposals lodged with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), sadly the union announced a second week of strikes would commence early next week.
The striking workforce were legally bound to return to duties this Thursday and Cruise Whitsundays say this will enable them to operate as normal for up to four days, allowing a small reprieve so that many passengers with a booking will likely be able to go on their planned tour.
With over 50 staff on strike, Cruise Whitsundays is in the midst of one of their most challenging periods in operation, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is rallying support from a marine workforce which is demanding a 30 per cent increase in wages.
General Manager of Cruise Whitsundays, Adam Hosie, said the high percentage of this pay rise is simply untenable for the business and that, if granted, would likely mean they would have to shut the doors on all operations within a year.
The first strike began on Friday September 15 when up to 30 marine workers formed a picket line at the entrance to the Cruise Whitsundays Terminal.
It then continued the following Wednesday when the first seven-day strike began, a total 50 staff striking, resulting in the cancellation of all ‘experiential tours’ to Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef.
“We have prioritised our critical island transfer services to try and reduce the impact on the other businesses in the Whitsundays that rely on these services for staff transport,” said Mr Hosie.
“Unfortunately, we have had no choice but to cancel products, impacting thousands of guests.
“This has potential impacts on the Whitsundays as a tourism destination as a whole, with a large number of visitors not being able to experience the destination as they expected.”
Desperate for a swift and fair resolution, Cruise Whitsundays have approached the MUA lawyers with a fourth proposal, but to date every proposal has been rejected with little feedback from the MUA.
Meanwhile, a representative from the MUA Jason Miners, asserted there had been “no correspondence” from Cruise Whitsundays, but saying they would be open to a new offer.
“If they come back with a new offer, we will likely pause the action, but if it’s the same offer we will likely continue to strike.
“Our members are still angry, and they wish to pursue their claim, but we are willing to meet them halfway.
“Unless they are around the table changing their position then why should we change ours?”
Cruise Whitsundays and the MUA met on Wednesday morning, however the previous day (prior to the agreed scheduled meeting and prior to providing any feedback from the latest proposal) the MUA announced that a further strike would commence on Monday.
It is a legal requirement to give three days’ notice prior to a strike and the MUA released a statement to its members on Wednesday morning apologising for their “f**k up” in not reissuing the strike notice earlier so that the strikers are protected.
This lack of foresight, however, gave Cruise Whitsundays a small reprieve, with workers legally responsible to return to work on Wednesday at 7pm.
Despite Cruise Whitsundays’ frustration at the actions of the MUA, they remain sympathetic to all their staff and want to work towards regaining a positive working environment for all employees.
“We pride ourselves on being a great employer, so it’s devastating that the current situation has unfolded in this way,” said Mr Hosie.
“We run a fantastic business that is focused on fun ¬– for both our guests and our staff.
“It’s disappointing to find that some of our employees feel undervalued and moving forward, we will continue to work with all of our staff to create a positive work environment.”
“We respect our staff’s right to take action, but at the same time, we will be disappointed if further strike action occurs as our proposed offer would see our staff earn 4.8% - 44.4% above award rates depending on experience, skill and tenure.”
When asked about how much the strike has cost the business, Mr Hosie said he was more focussed on the cost and reputation to the broader Whitsunday tourism industry, their suppliers, as well as the Cruise Whitsundays staff who are not striking.
His concern is also on the impact the strike has had on the holiday plans of thousands of tourists.
“This action has a significant impact on the services we are able to offer, which then impacts workers on the islands and holidaymakers visiting the region, not to mention the staff who are not participating in the union action,” he said.
When the MUA were asked about how they felt letting thousands of holiday makers down, they did not take any responsibility.
“No – it’s Cruise who should feel guilty!” said Mr Miners.
And, when asked whether they thought it fair that workers were at the pub in their campaign t-shirts, allegedly drinking heavily, while holiday makers were missing out on their experiences, he said:
“Whatever these workers do while off work is up to them, it’s better than them being down there [at the Cruise Whitsundays terminal] being abused.”
One of the key reasons the MUA have been protesting about fair pay is their assertion that Cruise Whitsundays marine workers are receiving 30 per cent less than SeaLink crew who are operating a very similar tour.
Cruise Whitsundays explains that this is due to the two businesses operating under different awards.
“Cruise Whitsundays EA (as most other Marine operators in the region) is underpinned by the Marine Tourism and Charter Vessel Award 2020,” said Mr Hosie.
“Whilst resort connections form part of our business, our core business is Marine Tourism, showcasing the beautiful Whitsundays and creating amazing experiences for our guests.
With more discussions expected to take place this week, Mr Miners said that “we are willing to sustain this up until Christmas if we have to”.
Meanwhile, Cruise Whitsundays simply wants to apply the reasonable pay increases set out in the proposed EA and return to showing holidaymakers the beauty of the Whitsundays.
Cruise Whitsundays General Manager Adam Hosie outside the terminal at Port of Airlie. Photo credit: Rachael Smith